Theodosia’s mother, the queen, was murdered before her eyes when her country was invaded. Now, she is trying to survive under the relentless abuse of the Kaiser as the ridiculed “Ash Princess,” pretending to be naïve in order to stay alive.
When Theo’s last hope of rescue is killed by her own hand, she cannot keep quiet any longer and vows for revenge. She throws herself into a plot to spur a rebellion, which involves seducing and murdering the Prinz who she unhelpfully develops feelings with.
Meanwhile, her rebel allies challenge her friendship with the only person that has been kind to her, her heart’s sister Cress, and Theo must face more impossible choices to figure out who she can trust and what she’s willing to sacrifice to save her people from slavery.
I was a little hesitant going into this because I read a few reviews after requesting and found that some people weren’t too keen on it–that it was too dark and heavy.
But luckily, I didn’t end up getting that super depressing, dark vibe from the story. Maybe I read a later edit of the manuscript where parts were taken out, but there were only really two scenes where Theodosia is being abused physically, and only a couple more with emotional strain.
Despite the general not-super-depressive mood of the story, it is still a YA book I’d recommend for 14+ just because some of the scenes do get a little graphic (with whippings etc.) and also because the themes are darker than your normal YA fantasy.
But, there was nothing I disliked in this novel. There were parts I was a bit apathetic to, and others that I liked, but there was nothing that I was like “Ugh oh no!” about.
Like I said before, there are a lot of dark themes as Theodosia is a slave and she is under enormous pressure to play this game to pretend she is loyal to the Kaiser and also try to start the rebellion. Ash Princess manages to work with the topic of slavery tastefully, unlike some other novels. It doesn’t use any dark skinned aggressor tropes and didn’t come off as offensive to me.
The races aren’t super clear, but we do get to understand that there is a very diverse cast in Theo’s people, while the Kaiser & her oppressors are pale and fair-haired. There wasn’t really any diversity outside of racial, but I really appreciated the fact that Theo and her people were peaceful and didn’t contribute to that dark skinned aggressor trope.
The plot was interesting and one of my favorite parts of this novel was actually the editor’s note at the beginning. I know this wasn’t the author’s work, but I did find it to be very inspiring and helped me gain a lot of insight to the text, so if you read this, I do suggest you don’t skim over this.
But the story deals with a lot of courtly manipulations and spying and although it does use a lot of typical YA fantasy tropes, I think that the story had an extra level of depth because of how Sebastian tackled slavery and oppression and imperialism.
I did find that the story lagged in the middle while Theo is working a lot with doing reconnaissance which was one of Ash Princess‘ biggest downfalls as it made it drag while I was reading, but the end definitely sped up and got a lot more intense.
Theo is an average girl and this is honestly one of this book’s biggest wins. She’s not exceptional or “not your ordinary teenage girl.” She’s scared and fearful but she still tries to stand up and fight for her people, which I found to be inspiring.
I did find the romance to border on a love triangle between Theo and one of the rebels from her childhood and the Prinz, but it didn’t end up as bothersome to read or end up really interfering with the plot in unnecessary ways, besides adding an extra level of drama. I’m definitely excited to see where this is going to go in the next book.
I do think that this book isn’t for everyone and that it definitely could come off as dark and depressive and just not an enjoyable read, but I liked the message and think that this was an enjoyable and meaningful read, which is more than I could say for countless other fantasies. I would definitely recommend to fantasy lovers who are in the right mindset to tackle a book with a lot of darker themes in it, and I will definitely be reading book 2, Lady Smoke, when it comes out next year!
Thank you so much to Random House and Netgalley for providing me with a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review!