Rating: 4 STARS
Standalone/Series: Ash Princess Trilogy #1
How I got this book: ARC from Pan Macmillan via NetGalley
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've been hearing soooo many things about this book that I had to check it out for myself as soon as I saw it come available on NetGalley.
Whilst the storyline does seem a little familiar, an avenging princess is a fairly common theme in YA, the author executes this narrative extremely well through the complex characters.
The interweaving cast of characters are each driven by their own motives but tied to the past actions of their predecessors and those influencing them, making it so that even at the end of this book, I still wasn't quite sure who's side I was on or who to root for.
Theo is a fantastically compelling character, she has all the qualities of a badass heroine; she's strong, loyal, fierce, driven and tortured. The pain that she deals with each day from her memories, her subjugation, and her own inner conflict is staggering. Watching her evolve from the character we meet at the beginning of the book to who's revealed at the end is quite an adventure.
The opening of the book is brilliant! The first chapter was so compelling that I became instantly invested in Theo, wanting revenge for her on all who'd destroyed the very fabric of her world. And the second chapter even further cemented all that she's lost and who she's been forced to become.
"You know who you are," she said to me. Her voice didn't waver, even as drops of blood bloomed where the blade cut her skin. "You are our people's only hope, Theodosia."
I do love Theo's strength, especially as time progresses, I love that she's not afraid to recognise that she will never be who she once was, who she was supposed to have become, that she's been moulded and forced into a different version of herself, one that even she doesn't yet understand. I'm truly looking forward to discovering what she's capable of as the series progresses.
"My body remembers - even when the rest of me forgets - that I am not made for curtsying."
There is a love triangle aspect to this book which I really, really wasn't a fan of. I'm not a huge fan of love triangles anyway since someone almost always gets hurt (you know, unless the author decides to resolve it in a seriously creepy way *cough*Twilight*cough*).
I actually really love the symbolism of the ash crown, as horrible as it is, I can picture it clearly in my mind, and love the imagery.
The other characters in the novel are also really well done:
- Soren - I have so many mixed feelings about this character!!! He's pretty useless to be perfectly honest. But, I think Theo is confused by him too so I guess that's kind of the point.
- Cress - I hate her for the most part, but there's a spark of something yet to come.
- Heron - Needs a much bigger role (because he's awesome and to help boost the very minimal LGBT rep)!
- Art - I love her no-nonsense attitude, it will be interesting to see who she becomes in the next book.
- Blaise - I don't know whether or not I actually like Blaise, but it looks like he's in for a rocky road ahead.
There is a lot of plotting and deception in this book which leads to some great, 'heart in mouth' moments where you're really unsure what's going to happen next. However, I did struggle with trying to decide whether some of the actions of certain characters, were acceptable or not. I think this builds upon my uncertainty of who to root for, but there's a line in the book about not having to apologise for what we do to survive...it feels a little sketchy for me and an easy path to becoming just as bad as the oppressor you're fighting against. So, I'm interested to see what comes of that.
In whole, this book is a very powerful portrayal of privilege, power and abuse. Probably the most poignant line being,
"I suppose it is easy to be at home in a world where you are on top. It's easy not to notice those whose backs you stand on to stay there."
Overall, I'm really looking forward to continuing Theo's journey in the next book of the series and would highly recommend Ash Princess to lovers of strong heroines, subterfuge, revenge, love-struck princes, female pirates and maniacal villains.
My only (very minor) complaint was that there just wasn't enough magic in this book - I'm really excited to see how it works and hope this is illustrated in the next book.
I think fans of Throne of Glass and Children of Blood and Bone, in particular, would enjoy Ash Princess.
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