Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian
Published by: Pan Macmillan
Fiction: Young Adult, 417p
Rating: 4 and a half/5 stars
In a land without a queen, the princess must rise. Princess Theodosia was six when the kingdom of Astrea was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. Ten years later, Theo has learned to survive under the relentless abuse and ridicule of the conquering Kaiser and his court as the ridiculed Ash Princess.
When the Kaiser forces her to execute her last hope to rescue, Theo vows revenge. Unable to trust even those who are on her side, Theo will have to decide how far she’s willing to go to save her people and how much of herself she’s willing to become Queen.
Starting right with the Prologue, one knows Ash Princess is going to be quite the tale of blood and revenge as it describes how the Queen of Astrea is killed right before her 6 year old daughter. The first chapter that follows immediately takes the reader into how the 10 years have played out for Theodosia who has had to suffer immense emotional and physical abuse to the point of pushing away who she is and what she stands for. Every time an Astrean rises in the semblance of a revolt, Theodosia is publicly flogged and humiliated while social occasions decree that she wear a crown of Ash in a cruel node to her lineage where she would have been the Fire Queen.
The only saving grace about Theodosia’s life as Theo, the Ash Princess in the captivity of the Kaiser is Crescentia, the daughter of Theyn who is the Kaiser’s best warrior besides being the head of his army and the man who killed Theodosia’s mother. And there you have the first plot point where Theo/Theodosia will struggle between being grateful and bonding with Crescentia for the later is the only person who has only shown kindness and extended the hand of friendship.
Is there talk of magic powers in Ash Princess? You bet there is, for some Astreans have magical powers through certain gems ‘Spiritgems’ that are blessed by Gods and Goddesses. There’s a catch though: only a few of the selected ones with the powers derived from these said gems can continue to be worthy of the powers with many going mad. When the Kalovaxians led by the Kaiser took over the Astrean kingdom, they are kept away from the gems, a great many Astreans are killed while the remaining are imprisoned in deep mines to fetch the gems for their captors who use them as decorative items.
When the Kaiser makes Theo kill Ampelio who she realizes has been a Guardian to her mother and possibly is her father, Theo realizes that she cannot stay forever in the hope to be rescued. But Theo has been mentally and emotionally stripped of her identity and place as an Astrean Princess besides being cut off from anyone who can possibly help her. Enter Blaise, a childhood friend who had been rescued from the mines by Ampelio before his capture and death and then, enter Soren, the Kaiser’s son who does not condone his father and wants to be nothing like him.
For me, the main crux of Ash Princess is not just the way the story plays out for Theo/Theodosia’s quest for revenge and whether she rallies the surviving Astreans and how she will battle it out with the Kaiser and his Kalovaxians but the every day battles she fights with her own self: How does she look at Crescentia: as a friend or as the daughter of someone who killed her mother? How does she react to Soren who has only kindness and to whom she is attracted: as someone she must use to leverage against his father, the Kaiser or a boy she feels herself falling in love with? The moral wrangling that Theo undergoes at every step of her way is fascinating and keeps one riveted into how things will play out for the protagonists.
When a love triangle plays out between Blaise, Theo and Soren and then Crescentia falling for Soren, it is a delicious situation that turns many wheels in motion where the Kaiser still holds the upper hand. Ash Princess ends on a cliffhanger and all I can say is I can’t wait for the next book in this trilogy. Much recommended for this book has quite the range of drama and emotions.
*A huge huge shout out to Pan Macmillan India for this Uncorrected Proof Copy.