Published By: Pan Australia
Goodreads: Add it to your reading list
Rating: 4 out of 5
Synopsis: Princess. Prisoner. Orphan. Rebel.
Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered. On that day, the Kaiser took Theodosia’s 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.
Review: Ash Princess is the first of a dark, heavy and intriguing fantasy, that will leave most readers loving this engrossing and treacherous world.
I personally loved this book. However I can see a few things about it that some readers may not like. I will explain with a little more detail below.
Firstly, this book is heavy. And by that, I mean it is set in a fantastical world that involves conquering, and therefore it has heavy themes which include violence, death, abuse, rape (not on page), slavery and torture. I know these things are not welcomed by everyone, so if you find these triggering or upsetting, this book is not for you.
I personally don’t mind the above themes being included in fantasy, if they have their place. This is a story where a race have been conquered, and along with that comes the heinous aspects of this. These all to often (historically and sadly not so historically) include the most horrible things that a person can have done to them – being stripped of their life, bodies and soul. In Ash Princess, there are two sets of people; the conquerors and the conquered. The conquerors, Kalovaxians, are exactly as you imagine – entitled, selfish and cruel, while the Astrean characters in this story have lived a life of suffering – their families murdered and the only survivors being forced into slavery. This world is brutal. It thrives on oppression, cruely, humiliation and greed.
Some say that Theo, the Astrean princess has not suffered in the 10 years since the conquiering. After all, she has been sparred her life, not been sent to the mines and has grown up surround by all the Kalovaxian luxury that comes at the expense of her own people. However, Theo has suffered in a very different way – she has had to oppress her true self, become the Kaiser’s puppet and whipping post. She is doing whatever she has to so she can to survive – isn’t that enough?
After years of torment and humiliation, the Kaiser not only draws blood from Theo, but makes her bloody her own hands. This finally triggers something in Theo. Maybe she can do more than just survive. After all, she is the Ash Princess.
So another aspect of the story that some may not like, is that the overall storyline is not unique. Conquerors kidnapping royalty and keeping them as slaves, until one day they rise up and take control etc. I find it very hard to find unique books these days (is anything really unique anymore?), so these types of storylines do not frustrate me – they are just another retelling. And this is Theo’s story, so therefore themes may be the same, but this is an individual story in that regard.
So while I can see why the violence and originality of the book may annoy others, they did not distract from my enjoyment of the book at all. I found the characters to be interesting and complex, and loved the inner-turmoil some of the characters faced throughout their journey. There was so much strength and weakness in each character, and even if you did not like them, most of them were complex. With exception of maybe one. And although they may have been pretty one-dimension, they were still very smart and definitely one to watch out for. The relationships themselves within the book are also extremely complex, and certainly blur the line between friend and enemy, and I certainly enjoyed this aspect of the story. I think the complex characters and various history and driving forces within them allows for some great friendship and betrayals, or at the very least, an interesting journey.
I found the world-building morbidly wonderful, with luscious and heinous descriptions in a well-developed world. Yes it was not a pleasant world, but it was amazingly described, each smell, vision and emotion jumped off the page. In fact, there was an aspect of this story that reached me so much that I actually had a dream about it – thankfully it wasn’t any of the violent or brutal aspects, but still, I can’t recall a book where after reading it I had a dream in a way that about my emotions that were stirred during the story. To me, that is a great indicator that something was extremely well done, as not only did I read the words about emotion, but I subconsciously absorbed the emotion and it stirred something within my own mind.
Ash Princess is dark and complex, gritty and hopeful. With a million different emotions and motives driving the characters, this is a world filled with confusion, suffering, revenge, self-doubt, hatred, hope, love, survival, torture, strength, turmoil, duty, honour, greed, pain and surviving. But sometimes it is about more than just surviving.