I received a free e-ARC of Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian from NetGalley in return for review consideration. Ash Princess is a fantasy novel, due to be published by Macmillan Children’s Books, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, in the UK on 14th June 2018.
Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:
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.
Warning: if you’re a Hamilton obsessive, like me, you’re likely to spend a lot of this book singing ‘Dear Theodosia’ to yourself. Obviously, that’s no bad thing, but it’s worth noting!
Onto the review! Ash Princess is, for all that it’s a YA novel, a much darker book than the typical YA fantasy. Theo’s life, in the palace that was once her family’s, has been difficult, and as the book progresses, Theo starts to realise just how difficult it’s been and how hard she’s been working to convince herself that things aren’t really so bad. It seems to me that in a lot of YA fantasy, there are elements of metaphorical imprisonment (through circumstance, through systemic inequality), but Theo’s imprisonment is literal and horrid. I think Sebastian does a really great job of balancing the darkness of the story – Theo’s life is dangerous and painful and she has suffered greatly for it – without it becoming gratuitous. And as a main character, Theo is hugely engaging and I was drawn into her story from the very start.
Friendship is an important theme of the book. Crescentia, the daughter of a high-ranking palace official, is Theo’s closest friend. Their friendship has lasted for many years, but as Theo starts to realise that she has options other than to remain a prisoner for the rest of her life, their friendship suffers. The progression of their relationship provides a sharp counterpoint to Theo’s growth and discovery of her own power and the possibilities for her own life.
As well as her friendship with Crescentia, there are other characters with whom Theo makes connections – people who offer her the opportunity to forge a different path with her life. And a romantic storyline which winds its way through the book, giving Theo something of a taste of a normal teenage life. I don’t want to give anything away (particularly given that the blurb for this book is satisfyingly non-specific), but there are some really nicely-drawn secondary characters, who add good depth to the story and offer avenues for more support, and also more conflict, in Theo’s life.
Ash Princess is a much darker book than many other YA fantasy novels, but all the better for it. The stakes feel higher, Theo’s problems seem larger, and her risks greater. I hugely enjoyed this new entrant into the YA fantasy genre, and would highly recommend it to anyone who wants a book that looks at the impact of a life of imprisonment, with a main character who has a huge journey ahead of her. I’m certainly looking forward to the sequel!
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