Publication: April 24th 2018 by Delacorte Books Pages: 432 Purchase: Amazon | Waterstones | Book Depository Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. On that day, the Kaiser took Theodosia's family, her land, and her name. Theo was crowned Ash Princess--a title of shame to bear in her new life as a prisoner. For ten years Theo has been a captive in her own palace. She's endured the relentless abuse and ridicule of the Kaiser and his court. She is powerless, surviving in her new world only by burying the girl she was deep inside. Then, one night, the Kaiser forces her to do the unthinkable. With blood on her hands and all hope of reclaiming her throne lost, she realizes that surviving is no longer enough. But she does have a weapon: her mind is sharper than any sword. And power isn't always won on the battlefield. For ten years, the Ash Princess has seen her land pillaged and her people enslaved. That all ends here.
“I was a princess made of ashes; there is nothing left of me to burn.
Now it’s time for a queen to rise.”
Laura Sebastian’s Ash Princess tells the story of captive princess, Theo, whose people have been enslaved by Kalovaxian intruders. After murdering her mother, the Queen of Astrea, as well as her faithful Guardians, the Kalovaxians decided to keep Princess Theodosia alive, to punish and humiliate her publicly whenever her people try to rebel.
Eventually, when Theo is sixteen years old, the ruler of the Kalovaxians — the Kaiser — takes her punishment a step too far, and inspires the princess to fight back. Using her sharp mind, and those who have remained faithful to her, Theodosia begins to build a rebellion that will overthrow the Kalovaxians and change not just her own life, but the lives of her people.
Ash Princess was a novel I have read so many times before. As an avid reader of young adult fantasy, I have long since accepted that there are a great deal of similarities between texts in this genre — but sometimes, as in this case, they are just too much to look past, and have a significantly negative impact on my enjoyment of the book.
Generally, when I encounter a book with tropes of the genre, I can be forgiving as long as it has a good plot and interesting characters. This was my experience with Cora Carmack’s Roar, for example. However, Ash Princess did not have enough of either of those to sway my opinion from being anything other than distinctly unimpressed.
The characters in Sebastian’s novel were flat. They felt like nothing more than archetypes: the evil tyrant, the childhood best friend-turned love interest, the soft-hearted and misunderstood son of the evil tyrant, the pretty and untrustworthy best friend, the supposedly ruthless heroine (who, surprise, isn’t actually ruthless at all). I didn’t care for any of the characters I was supposed to care about, and I did not fear any of the characters I was supposed to fear. This resulted in me feeling disconnected from the story very early on — and it made getting through this one quite a struggle.
The plot itself — as mentioned earlier — is one I have read countless times. In all fairness, I knew what I was getting into when I read the synopsis but, based on reviews I had read, and on certain parts of said synopsis, I expected the (supposedly) darker elements of Ash Princess to set it aside from other novels in its genre. However, I really didn’t find this novel dark at all. A great deal of the horrific events in Ash Princess happen off-page and, when you’re continually told about these horrible things happening, but never actually see them happening, it’s difficult to become as involved as the author wants you to be. The world itself seemed like a dark place, but the plot itself was not — and that was pretty disappointing.
In relation to this, Sebastian has Theo reiterate time and time again about how closely she is watched, and about how she is punished for everything that goes wrong in regards to her people. Yet, in the course of this 432 page novel, Theo has plenty of time for midnight rendevouz with the Prinz, and to plot with her loyal followers, and she is punished only once. In fact, Sebastian has Theo reiterate a lot of things in this novel but, what she fails to realise is that having your character tell the reader that they should feel something time and time again will not make them feel it. Can someone please remind authors in this genre to show and not tell? PLEASE.
I wish I could say that these were my only problems with Sebastian’s Ash Princess, but they were simply the most prominent ones. On top of all of this, there was an overused elemental magic system, poor representation (I’m honestly so over authors trying to be inclusive by writing characters with “tan” skin), an absolute bucket-load of pointless, rambling narrative (I skimmed a lot towards the end, and missed nothing of importance), and a love-triangle.
I originally intended to put something positive at the end of this review but, now that I’m nearing the end, I’ve realised that I don’t have anything positive to write. This novel was a huge disappointment for me, and such a slog to get through, and I left it feeling nothing more than relief that it was over.
To summarise, unless you’re only just delving into this genre, you’re really not going to find anything original here. It’s another young adult fantasy packed full of stock characters, a basic magic system, and a plot straight out of a “how to write young adult fantasy” guidebook. Unless you enjoy reading the same story over and over, then I would recommend passing on this one.
“’We are not defined by the things we do in order to survive. We do not apologize for them,’ she says quietly, eyes never leaving mine. ‘Maybe they have broken you, but you are a sharper weapon because of it. And it is time to strike.’”