Release date – 14th June 2018
Rating – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
If you combined Falling Kingdoms with Red Queen, added a hint of Everless, and then mixed them all together, you would end up with Ash Princess.
And it totally works.
After watching her mother, the Queen of Astrea, murdered by the invading Kalovaxians, Theodosia is kept alive by her enemies only to be used as leverage to keep Astrean rebels in check. She is publicly whipped and punished by the Kaiser or his general whenever there are rebellions from her people, and has to constantly play the Kaiser’s twisted games. And while Theo’s sole aim has so far been to stay alive and survive day to day, she throws herself into her plans for revenge after the Kaiser forces her to carry out a brutal execution of one of her own people – and also her last hope of rescue.
While Theo once saw the Kaiser’s son, Prinz Søren, as a means to an end, she doesn’t expect to develop feelings for him. She also doesn’t expect her rebellions to lead to revelations about her one friend at court.
Okay, I have to say, I love court stories. I love the mind games and the fights that are fought with words rather than swords (I’m quite squeamish and so can’t really bring myself to fist pump when someone is stabbed in the gut – but someone tears their opponents to shreds with just some well-aimed words? I practically swoon) and Ash Princess had plenty of those. Theo is constantly playing different parts depending on who she’s talking to. She’s either the queen that the rebels so desperately need, or the simpering princess, desperate to prove to the Kaiser and his court that her people mean nothing to her, that she is, truly, a princess of ash.
I really loved Theo’s character development; initially, I wasn’t sure I was going to like her. She seemed shallow and too desperate to please (but, on reflection, which sixteen year old wouldn’t try to appease a sadistic Kaiser with a penchant for brutal punishments and mental torture?), but I found myself growing to love her as the story went on. I loved how complex she was; how she constantly warred with herself over her feelings for her friend and the Prinz; how she constantly had to weigh her actions and what consequences they would have for other people. She flinches away from difficult tasks, but ultimately recognises that they’re necessary.
There is a love triangle…Of a sort. There are multiple kisses with two parties, anyway, even if Theo isn’t actually in a relationship with either of them, and is literally trying to manipulate one of them into falling for her. It isn’t really resolved – or, it isn’t for me (I require things spelled out in capital letters, preferably in bold and underlined, and only then will I believe it), but I’m hoping that the love triangle doesn’t take up too much of book two.
The secondary characters are all fleshed out well, and I did really like them all (apart from Cress, who I wanted to kick off a cliff, but more on that later). The rebels all bring different things to the table, and always know what Theo needs; whether she needs comfort, or some harsh words and a firm kick up the bum, they’re there, and I loved them. I also adored Søren, who is precious and makes me want to cuddle him and protect him at all costs. I have really high hopes for his character in book two.
Now, let’s talk about Cress. Cress, whose father is the same man who slit Theo’s throat while Theo watched. It sounds like a friendship that is totally doomed from the start, but Theo does actually love Cress in a way; Cress is the only one who has ever shown Theo care or affection, even if she doesn’t fully appreciate Theo as a person, only as a project or pet. I loved reading about Theo’s difficulties regarding her feelings for Cress, but as soon as the lady herself stepped onto the scene, I wanted to punch her.
You know those characters you just instantly dislike? That’s Cress for me.
I couldn’t stand her. Her and her manipulations; because while she wasn’t outright abusive to Theo, she still put her down in small, petty ways. Like when they both went to lunch with Prinz Søren, and Cress literally took the dress off Theo’s back, and made Theo don a monstrosity of a dress. Or when she intercepted and read Theo’s correspondence with the Prinz. Cress was so blinded by her infatuation with the Prinz and her desire to be royalty that she would do anything – including putting down a girl she calls her “heart’s sister” to make herself look better – to get what she wants. I tried so hard to like her, but towards the end I just embraced the hatred. She’s a vile character.
Overall, I loved this book. There were times where it was difficult to get back into the book after I’d put it down (solution: read all day), but once I got back into Theo’s world, it was totally addictive. Laura Sebastian is definitely one to watch.
*thank you to Macmillan, who provided me with a free review copy in exchange for a honest review*