Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. On that day, the Kaiser took Theodosia’s family, her land, and her name. Theo was crowned Ash Princess–a title of shame to bear in her new life as a prisoner.
For ten years Theo has been a captive in her own palace. She’s endured the relentless abuse and ridicule of the Kaiser and his court. She is powerless, surviving in her new world only by burying the girl she was deep inside.
Then, one night, the Kaiser forces her to do the unthinkable. With blood on her hands and all hope of reclaiming her throne lost, she realizes that surviving is no longer enough. But she does have a weapon: her mind is sharper than any sword. And power isn’t always won on the battlefield.
For ten years, the Ash Princess has seen her land pillaged and her people enslaved. That all ends here.
I’m very picky about fantasy novels, but I’m glad I gave this one a shot. I was intrigued by the title because of an inside joke with an old friend (we were actually still friends when I bought it), and I finally got around to reading it. I’m only sorry that I slept on this book for a few years before giving it a real shot. I didn’t want to put it down, even after finishing!
Theo (aka: Queen Theodosia) or as the Kaiser has renamed her, Thora, has been a prisoner in her own castle for a decade since the siege that killed her mother. For some reason, the Kaiser kept her – the only living heir – alive, and those reasons come to light throughout the book. At the point when the book starts, it seems like Theo is starting to finally lose hope that she’ll ever get out of her prison, but a few palace intruders sneak in and Theo’s hope is restored, so they form a plan to get out and begin another rebellion.
“The hope inside me is not smothered yet. It is dying, yes, with only a few embers left. But I’ve seen fires rekindled with less.”
Throughout the story, we see Theo go from obeying the Kaiser and doing her best to keep out of trouble as to not be punished (usually public whippings), to having a fire inside her to take over the country that was once her mothers… and is now rightfully hers. She has a hard time trusting anyone, even her own people – the Astreans – because she has been betrayed too many times. Even her friendship with Cress isn’t a full friendship, as Cress is the daughter of the man who killed Theo’s mother… how could she fully trust that girl?
There is a love triangle element in this story that includes Theo having feelings for an old Astrean friend, Blaise, and the Kaiser’s son, Søren. I pretty much knew there’d be romance between Søren and Theo, but her old friend was a nice little twist. I’m not usually a fan of love triangles, but this one works because Theo falling for the Kaiser’s son means betraying her people… and she’s supposed to be their Queen. So in a way, it’s a bit of a forbidden romance as well, though as stated, Theo can’t fully trust Søren as he’s the son of he man who destroyed her kingdom. I’m definitely interested to see where the triangle goes in the next two books.
“Because that’s how water works. The river flows, pushing against a stone, even as it knows it won’t move it. It doesn’t have to. Enough currents go by, over enough time, and even the strongest stone gives in. It might take a lifetime or more, but water doesn’t give up.”
What really took me by surprise in this book was how hardcore the violence was. It definitely isn’t toned down, but I suppose it could be worse than it is. Still, anyone who can’t deal with graphic violence in a book should be warned. There is also mental abuse in this book, as that’s what the Kaiser uses against Theo to break her down (along with the violence, of course). In addition to the shock of how brutal this book is, there were a lot of good twists in this book, with a very shocking one at the end.
Overall, this was a great YA fantasy read that I’d definitely recommend, as it doesn’t seem to get any social media love. I can’t wait to see what Lady Smoke has in store for Theo and her companions next!
Rating: 4.5/5 stars