Review: Ash Princess - Laura Sebastian

Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian
Series: Ash Princess Trilogy #1

My rating: {★★★☆☆}

YA Fantasy Fiction
Published June 14th 2018 by Macmillan Children's Books

Source: Review copy sent by Publisher
The queen you were meant to be
The land you were meant to save
The throne you were meant to claim

Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. Ten years later, Theo has learned to survive under the relentless abuse of the Kaiser and his court as the ridiculed Ash Princess.

When the Kaiser forces her to execute her last hope of rescue, Theo can't ignore her feelings and memories any longer. She vows revenge, throwing herself into a plot to seduce and murder the Kaiser's warrior son with the help of a group of magically gifted and volatile rebels. But Theo doesn't expect to develop feelings for the Prinz.

Forced to make impossible choices and unable to trust even those who are on her side, Theo will have to decide how far she's willing to go to save her people and how much of herself she's willing to sacrifice to become Queen.

From author Laura Sebastian comes Ash Princess, a nail-biting YA fantasy debut full of daring and vengeance.
** I voluntarily read and reviewed a review copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.**

I just have to start by saying that I'm finding this book incredibly difficult to review. I always find that I struggle with the three star reviews the most - three stars means that I did like the book; I found it enjoyable and I was entertained. However it also means that there were issues with the book that stopped me from liking it a lot (four stars) or absolutely loving it and adding it to my 'Favourites' shelf (five stars).

If you're looking for something original and fresh in the YA world, I'm afraid that there's nothing for you to see here. This is just another version of a story that I've read many times over. However I was still entertained. It's not even the fact that the book is fairly dark and full of terrors (slavery, cruelty, abuse etc) - that's quite standard thoroughfare nowadays in the Ya world too - but there was still something a little compulsive about this one that kept me interested and reading.

I both liked and disliked the main character Thora/Theo. When your mother is murdered in front of you at such a young age and then you are taken in as a hostage (at best) by the very enemy who has taken over your country and enslaved your people, I can understand that you are scared, trembling and very much an unwilling protagonist. I could see why she didn't just suddenly pick herself up and be all heroic. She had been brutally tortured, both physically and mentally and while she might have a deep well of anger and hate inside her, she had no idea what to do about it or who, if anyone to turn to. There had been too many psychological games played on her to cow her into submission. Not to mention that despite herself she had found affection and even friendship with the very people that had taken over her country and with this came the realisation that as a people, the Kalovaxians weren't all soldiers and even those that were, were also someone's child, friend or even father.

“They tried to break me, and they nearly succeeded. I let my fear cow me, I let them cow me. But I’m done. I’m going to make them pay. For everything they’ve done to us, to our country. To our fathers and our mothers."

The book is entirely from Theo's point of view and while I could understand her character, her motivations and her actions and I can even relate to them so much more than a lot of fierce female protagonists, that doesn't mean to say that her complaints and insecurities weren't irritating at all. There is a reason that so many YA fantasy heroines seem so courageous and daring and fearless: it's more fun to read about! I do have to commend the effort though to make Theo more realistic though. It's easier to see yourself in her shoes.

My favourite and most fleshed out character seemed to be Artemisia, the daughter of a famed pirate and rebel. I hope that we'll see a lot more of said pirates and Art in the next book!

The plot, while mostly predictable was engaging enough however I could definitely see some 'debut issues' with it. Some of the plot devices (like the whole Ampelio scene) seemed just that; plot devices and I think those pivotal moments needed to be more believable and also have more of a fallout.

My largest plot complaint was that I wasn't actually sure why Thora/Theo was even left to live after the fall of her kingdom. I can understand why the Theyn left her to live during the seige (that was explained away fairly satisfactorily in the book and as a parent I can understand) but that doesn't explain why the Kaiser would have left the Princess (and the rightful ruler) of an overthrown country alive. The reasons outlined in the narrative were just not motivating enough for his character and personality type shown in the book.

Generally I truly dislike love triangles and they can be enough to turn me off a book completely however this triangle was just so blatant I appreciated that it didn't try to be anything else. I could understand Theo's position but at the same time I don't think that the angst added anything positive to the narrative at all and I found it hard to ship either relationship to be honest but perhaps that's my jaded anti-lovetriangle heart.

The writing itself is pretty solid and very easy to read. There's a number of German terms throughout the book which I couldn't decide if I liked or found annoying. I liked that they were different but I didn't really feel a German inspired world. Unfortunately for a devourer of fantasy, the world wasn't well fleshed out although the book did have a map showing the locations of the major countries etc. We got to see the magic system in use only briefly and there were threads of various plot lines that I hope are explored a lot more in the sequels.

I was a princess made of ashes; there is nothing left of me to burn.
Now it’s time for a queen to rise.
For all the faults and niggles that I had with this book I did enjoy it for what it was however I do expect more from the sequel. More world building - more development of the characters that we have been introduced to - more action and hopefully a large move away from the tropes and cliches that make this seem like a run-of-the-mill fantasy in the twenty-teens.

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