For those who know me, it goes without saying that I'm a huge fan of fantasy. Middle grade, YA, adult -- it doesn't matter to a girl who grew up on Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia and is now tearing her way through A Song of Ice and Fire. I like what I like, okay?! My love for the genre is a huge reason why I gravitated toward Ash Princess, Laura Sebastian's debut novel. After finishing it in about a week (with several days where I didn't pick it up at all), I ended up giving it four stars on Goodreads.
Ash Princess is the first in a planned trilogy (the second installment, Lady Smoke, is slated for release in Spring 2019) that centers on Theodosia, princess of Astrea, whose country is ravaged by the conquering Kalovaxians. Her people are either slaughtered, like her queen mother, or sent to work in mines as slaves, harvesting magical gems. The Kaiser, ruler of the Kalovaxians, has kept Theodosia (now known as Lady Thora, or as the nickname from her youth, Theo) alive as some kind of a symbol, as he constantly has her physically abused and punished for any Astrean rebellion. The title of the book is also what the Kaiser calls Theo, because her mother was the Fire Queen. This first novel follows Theo through the twists and turns of the beginning of a political coup as she begins to find the power she thought she'd lost when her mother died.
According to a few different Goodreads reviews, Ash Princess is great for fans of other fantasy novels like Red Queen or An Ember in Ashes. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, for the purposes of a comparison, I haven't read either of those. Even so, I have to agree with a few reviewers on GR -- there's not a whole lot about Ash Princess that feels new, even to me, and I haven't been keeping too up to date with new fantasy releases! But let's be real -- sometimes, tropes are tropes for a reason. Ash Princess was super enjoyable because there was a lot about the storyline and the characters that fantasy fans come back to again and again.
Before I go any further, because I was reading an Advanced Reader's Copy, there's every chance in the world that some of the things I talk about will be different in the final version! All that said, I do have a few bones to pick with Ash Princess. First of all (and again, this is probably due to my copy being an ARC), there's definitely an issue with phrases being repeated over and over, sometimes very close to each other. That's just an editing thing, but it definitely interrupted the flow of the book for me. Additionally, one of those repeated phrases brings me to my next issue -- Sebastian describes Theo in first person multiple times as having "tawny skin and dark hair."
I wanted to give this book so many props for writing colonizers as evil, and white colonizers at that! The thing is, it's painfully clear that it's written by a white author. A character "from the East" is described as basically East Asian. Sebastian did a beautiful job creating a fantasy world, so I won't be surprised if in the next novel, the idea of race is explored more than just giving us the equivalent of real-life locations. The ideas Sebastian took from real-life racism, though, are used perfectly. Without giving TOO many spoilers, a twist toward the end about what the Kalovaxians use the people in the mines for....let's just say, all the snaps for Laura Sebastian. Writing diverse YA literature is always so, so necessary, and I'm glad that Ash Princess will, in its own way, join the ranks of that.
Speaking of twists, I have to say that they're the reason Ash Princess ended up with four stars from me instead of three. I was really torn on how I wanted to review it on Goodreads, but the last quarter or so of the book threw me for such a loop that I just had to bump the review up to four stars. To quote my own Goodreads comment, "Wow, there’s a twist (at least one — I still have quite a bit of book left!) that seriously punched me in the face, laughed, AND THEN STOLE MY LUNCH MONEY." Seriously y'all, no spoilers, but if you're like me and find yourself hesitant to finish this book for whatever reason, STICK WITH IT. I had to put the book down several times and just blink in shock, the twists were that good.
Ash Princess comes out April 24, 2018, from Delacorte (Random House) in the US.
Disclaimer: I received an advanced readers' copy of Ash Princess at the Texas Library Association Conference 2018. This has in no way affected my rating, review, or opinion of this book. Some of the links in this review are affiliate links.