My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Length: 432 pages
Release date: 24 April 2018
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.
Hello instalove, my old friend.
I’m really wrestling with my feelings about this book. At first glance, Ash Princess is an essentially sound YA fantasy whose main fault is one of absence–that is, the absence of anything new. Look at what we’ve got: oppressed princess, love triangle, magical artefacts controlling the four classical elements…wait a second.
Call it déjà vu, but I’ve read this novel before. More times than I care to count.
Think Red Queen meets And I Darken, but crammed with as many tropes imported from Sarah J. Maas and Avatar: The Last Airbender as possible. Everything feels just a tad too contrived for comfort, in a way that screams “YA novel” and snaps suspension of disbelief.
Much as part of my consciousness always belongs to the reviewer brain that scans for things I can write about, when I’m reading, I want to be able to simply forget that I’m reading fiction. Ash Princess doesn’t let me do that, because I constantly have to make excuses for characters’ questionable behaviour that go along the lines of “it’s a YA novel, they won’t act totally realistically.” Meh.
Ash Princess is also gory and merciless to the point of being gratuitous. The abuse inflicted on certain characters feels rather exploitative at times and crosses the line for no reason other than to hammer home how horrible Theo’s life is. Because make no mistake, as much pain as the people being tortured are in, it’s all about how Theo needs to rise up to protect her people.
Speaking of which, why are the empires in YA fantasy always cartoonishly evil? Even the Nazis in Schindler’s List have more depth than the maniac rulers in all these novels who somehow manage to hold on to power despite being complete and utter lunatics. The Roman Empire didn’t become what it was because they put a string of Ramsay Boltons in power; at the very least, their tyrants had some good sides–Caligula, Nero and their like weren’t useless and did have accomplishments in infrastructure and governance that made life less awful for the common person.
Not so for the Kaiser of Ash Princess (or any of his parallel characters in similar novels), whose defining qualities are lecherousness, incompetence and did I mention extreme evil. The book talks about how the conquering nation of Kalovaxia takes over kingdoms, literally works 99% of its population to death, and moves on to the next kingdom for resources. I may not be a historian or an anthropologist, but this really seems to me like neither a sustainable nor a practical way for an empire to operate. Can you even be called an empire if you have no people left alive to rule over?
I’ll be thrilled when I next find one of those rare YA novels where conquerors are treated as real people and not Satan incarnate. (Oh hey there, Now I Rise…)
World building needs work. Sadly, it looks more and more like that’s what sequels are for. In the best case scenario, Ash Princess will go the way of Throne of Glass and make huge expansions to the scope of its setting.
Now that I think about it, it’s a lot like Throne of Glass anyways, but less besotted with its protagonist, which is good, and more derivative of books that came before it, which is not so good. Captive princess of a recently conquered nation falls in love with the enemy prince while discovering the beginnings of a powerful magic that she might one day unlock to liberate her people–checks out.
Ash Princess came this close to taking the, in my humble opinion, much bolder, more intriguing path by making Søren a villain, but ultimately Laura Sebastian only teases it. It could have been such a fun ride.
By inexplicably co-opting German terms and adding an uninspired if original mythology, Ash Princess tries to dress up as a new story, but it’s nothing more than a remix of the same old tale. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, or wrong with this novel, especially if the tropes hit on are to your taste. I just can’t help being a little disappointed that such a spellbinding cover doesn’t have the content to match.
*Thanks to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*