Ash Princess is a story that I think was partly inspired by Sansa Stark in season 2-4 of Game of Thrones: our heroine, Theodosia, is the daughter of a murdered queen being raised in the court of her enemy. Like Sansa, she has red hair, the queen calls her ‘little (animal)’, she is beaten mercilessly and punished for the actions of her people, and her best friend wants to marry the prince. Like Sansa, Theodosia, renamed Thora by her cruel captor, knows that she has to placate the tyrant to survive, and that sometimes means doing nothing but smiling prettily and accepting the abuse.
I have been wanting to read, very specifically, a book about a princess being raised in her enemy’s court for some time now, and even though I built this book up in my head, I was not disappointed.
My favourite parts were when Theo was facing off against the Kaiser (king), and he was being creepy or cruel and she knew it, and she knew that she had to placate him by smiling and acting simple and grateful for every little thing, even though she was vastly more intelligent than she acted. She was manipulative with every character she met, and I loved that about her. I loved seeing her thought process and insight with her manipulation of the prinz (prince). She knew what he wanted, she knew what the Kaiser wanted, she even knew what her allies wanted, and she was able to provide that and play the part of a damsel, a plaything, or a queen, without losing herself or sight of her own goals. I loved the twist in the relationship with Theo’s best friend, and I don’t want to spoil what happens because it was really cool experiencing that myself.
Another thing I really loved was the depiction of the Kalovaxian’s cultural appropriation of Astrean culture. They use Astrean spirit gems not as revered magical devices, but as gaudy jewellery. They dress in Astrean fashion and eat Astrean food while the rest of Theo’s people are enslaved and murdered. Theo reflects on how they ‘enjoy’ Astrean things while Theo herself is not allowed to be any part Astrean, with her language, religion, and (the appearance of) her loyalty forcibly replaced by others.
Within YA fantasy, there is a lot of books now, in the last few years, and due to release in the next few years that are about young females, sometimes royalty, accessing their power and magic. It’ something that I really love reading about. In that way, Ash Princess is ‘just another’ one of these many books, where the young girl comes of age and discovers her own power along the way. Ash Princess differs from these other fantasy novels by giving us a heroine who is probably more insightful than a lot of others I’ve read. She doesn’t make a lot of stupid or rash decisions, and she’s adept at manipulating. There’s also vivid descriptions of what life is like for those enslaved by Theo’s captors, and a lot of violence.
However, there were a couple of things I wasn’t a big fan of. I felt that her relationship with the Prinz was organic, but I felt that the other corner of the supposed love triangle, with the character Blaise, was forced. I didn’t like Theo reflecting on her feelings for Blaise when he clearly didn’t have any for her but still acted like a jealous boyfriend when it suited the plot. I mean, just because you kiss someone doesn’t mean you’re in love, right? So it’s a love triangle without being a love triangle. Not that there’s anything wrong with love triangles!
I also felt like there was always a promise of Theo having fire magic, especially since she responded so vividly to the fire gems, but she never explored or even thought about exploring this, even when she was clearly the fourth piece in the little elemental-theme resistance. There was the tantalising promise and then nothing.
The other thing I didn’t like was the ending. I felt like there was a big showdown that I was excited for, but then after that the narrative fizzled like a balloon with a hole in it. While I didn’t necessarily need something as big as a battle, I did want more than what was provided. It was the definition of anti-climactic, and it felt like a letdown after all of the drama and violence. I felt like the revelation at the very end didn’t really make up for the lack of drama and conflict during what should have been the climax. I felt like the anti-climax was too busy setting up for the sequel than wrapping up its own ends and providing a complete and satisfying story. This left me unengaged enough to want to read more about Theo in her next novel.
I received this book for free from Pan MacMillan in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.