I don’t remember how exactly I heard about this book, but when I did, I put it on my to-read list almost instantly. This happened back in October 2017. A few months went by and I begin to doubt. Let’s be real: Ash Princess looks like a lot of other YA fantasies, right down to the beautiful cover with a crown.
Despite this, when I got my hands on an ARC copy of the book (hooray for staff days at the library!), I was ecstatic. This feeling only grew when I began reading: my initial gut feeling was right. This book is amazing!
Theodora, or Lady Thora as she now goes by, is the last royal connection to the country of Astrea. Ten years ago the Kalovaxians invided her country, murdered her mother (the Queen) and took over the court, sending the rest of the Astreans to either death or slavery in the mines. After many years of captivity, and after enduring beating after beating, Theo reaches her limit when the brutal Kaiser forces her to execute an unexpected visitor from the past. She is out for revenge.
This one begins at breakneck speed. That mysterious visitor Theo has to execute? Spoiler alert: It’s her father. It’s the inciting action of all inciting actions, and absolutely sets the tone for the rest of the book. Unlike similar YA fantasies, the book is brutally dark and grim. From the moment Theo watched her mother die, she entered a world of physical and emotional abuse. Perhaps the only light of Theo’s past decade was her unexpected friendship with Cress, her mother’s murderer’s daughter. All this changes when Theo executes her father, then finds herself caught up in the rebel cause with a long forgotten childhood friend.
Theo is a great narrator, not for any particular reason other than her unpredictability. She tells the reader her thoughts with alarming honesty, and is too trusting of those around her (even though she knows the risk), but is capable of last minute changes. Her unfortunate circumstances made her adaptable, even if her judgement is weak at times.
As has come to be expected in the world of YA books, Ash Princess has some delightful twists and turns. They are, however, better than most. Though the twists thrown in are surprising, the plot hardly hinges on these moments to keep the reader engaged. With or without those moments, I was engaged by everything I read.
Best of all, this book has amazing relationships, with an emphasis on friendships and making allies and destroying enemies rather than romance. There is romance, yes, but it’s not the main draw to the story, and develops rather realistically despites its speed, and obvious deceptive limitations. The court intrigue is the driving factor of most of the relationships in the story, both for the good ones and bad ones. Since I love strategic court plotting, and it made up a lot of Ash Princess, it’s no wonder why I loved the book.
My enjoyment of Ash Princess is as much surprising as it is unsurprising, but in the end the book was exactly what I wanted it to be. I have high hopes for the continuation of the series! There is much left hanging and I can’t wait to see it resolved…