If you love Victoria Aveyard's Red Queen series as much as I do, you'll definitely want to pick up Ash Princess, the first book in Laura Sebastian's trilogy of the same name. It's a richly imagined young adult fantasy that kept me engrossed from start to finish, and, while it's not an exact read-alike for Red Queen, it evoked the same feelings of joy and wonder I felt when first introduced to Aveyard's world and characters.
Theodosia was only six when her kingdom was claimed by the ruthless Kaiser, and in the blink of an eye, her life was turned upside-down. Her mother, the beloved Queen of Fire, was murdered before her eyes, and Theo herself was kept as a political prisoner of sorts. Nicknamed the Ash Princess, Theo has survived the past ten years filled with countless beatings by pretending to be an empty-headed miss who is content with the tiny little life the Kaiser is allowing her to lead. She doesn't allow herself to dream of a better, happier life, for she knows the Kaiser will only be content if she is suffering.
One day, a man is dragged bound and bleeding into the palace. He is rumored to be the leader of a group of rebels fighting to overthrow the Kaiser. Since the rebels would like nothing more than to call Theo their queen, the Kaiser orders her to kill the prisoner as a way of alienating her from her would-be followers. She doesn't want to obey the order, but she knows things will go very badly for her if she refuses, and so she ends the prisoner's life, but doing so forces her to realize that she can no longer continue to play the Kaiser's games. She must rise up and fight for her people and her kingdom, even if doing so could cost her her very life.
Rebellion doesn't come easily to Theo. She's spent so long focused on her own survival that she's not quite sure what steps she needs to take in order to take back her kingdom. Fortunately, there are those in the palace who are willing to help her. Slowly, Theo begins to shed the skin of the Ash Princess and grow into the wise yet ruthless ruler she is destined to become.
There's a lot more to the story than I've outlined here, but I don't want to give too much away. I want readers to fall in love with Theo the way I did, and I'm not sure you can do that if you go into the story with too much information. Part of this novel's magic comes from watching events unfold in some very surprising ways.
Love triangles are usually a big turn-off for me, so I was a little disappointed when I realized Ms. Sebastian had put one in here. Fortunately though, it's incredibly well-done, and it's definitely not the central focus of the book. Theo yearns for true love, but she also knows she's got a lot on her plate and that romance isn't the most important thing in her life. She is more than able to stand on her own, and I loved her for it.
So many of the heroines in today's young adult fantasy novels are these super-powerful, brave, smart young women who do everything right the very first time they try, and while I sometimes enjoy reading about those kinds of characters, it was unbelievably refreshing to read about someone like Theo who doesn't always get it right the first time around. She wants to do the right thing, but her own weaknesses sometimes get in her way, and she is forced to do some work on herself in order to be the kind of ruler her people deserve.
Ash Princess isn't a novel that's filled with non-stop action and intrigue. Instead, we spend quite a bit of time inside Theo's head as she struggles to make her way in the cut-throat world of the Kaiser's making, and Ms. Sebastian does a stellar job making both the action-packed and the reflective parts of the story utterly spell-binding. If life hadn't intruded, I would have blown through this book in a single sitting.
My one complaint, if you can call it that, is that the novel ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, and book two won't come out until sometime in 2019. It feels like such a long time to wait for the second part of Theo's story, but you can be sure I’ll be picking it up as soon as it appears.
Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Apple Books/Kobo
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