(Ash Princess Trilogy #1)
April 24, 2018
“Theodosia, Ampelio called me. It’s a strong name – the one my mother gave me. It’s the name of a queen. It doesn’t feel like a name I deserve, but here I stand, alone. If I am to survive, I must be strong enough to live up to it.”
Theodosia, now called Thora since her capture, is the Ash Princess. It is a title of shame in reference to her mother who was known as the Fire Queen. Before her murder, Thora’s mother was the beloved Queen of Astrea. Now Thora is held captive in her own childhood palace — controlled by the Kaiser, the ruler of the Kalovaxians.
Thora bears the punishment of all the mistakes made during the Kaiser’s rule. When there’s a rebellion or when the slaves from her old kingdom make major mistakes, she is whipped, often publicly, leaving horrible scars across her back. Outside of the whippings, Thora’s life appears to be one of luxury with her own private quarters, her own servant, and a seat at any party or gathering so long as she wears the mocking “ash crown” (which continually flakes streaks of gray down her cheeks and into her hair).
There are certain characteristics that set Thora’s people, the Astreans, apart from the Kalovaxians. For one, her people are a darker-skinned people while the Kalovaxians have paler skin. Another difference is that the Astreans are blessed by the gods with powers that are heightened through the use of Spiritgems. Only certain people are given the blessing and it’s considered sacrilege to attempt to use the power of the Spiritgems if you are not endowed with the god’s blessing. In fact, if you use them without the blessing of your god, they believe you will be forced to wander the world as a Shade in the afterlife and never see your loved ones again. Nevertheless, anyone can feel a hint of power given off by these gems, even if they aren’t blessed with full powers. Therefore, the Spiritgems are worked into jewelry, clothing, weapons, etc. After Thora’s people are conquered, the Kalovaxians begin mining these sacred Spiritgems and selling them off to other nations.
Thora’s closest friend and confidant is Crescentia, or Cress. However, theirs is a complicated friendship because Cress’s father, Theyn, is the guard who murdered Thora’s mother. Still, Cress has extended such tender kindness to Thora over the last 10 years and they act as if they are sisters. When the Kalovaxians are horrible to Thora, Cress is there to boost her spirits and remind her that she is loved.
Prince Soren is the son of the Kaiser. And while the Kaiser is horrific, evil, and disgusting, Soren claims he wants to be nothing like his father. He shows gentleness and grace to Thora, time and time again. He confesses his faults to her and reveals his plans to be a better person. But can Thora remain close to Soren while attempting to eventually lead her people to freedom?
And what extravagant fantasy would be complete without a complicated romance, without misunderstandings about who is fully committed to the throne, and without surprising reveals over blood relationships? Yep, this book has a number of unsuspecting reveals that I dare not discuss lest I face being burned at the stake. But just know they’re all there, along with numerous characters that I’ve not yet mentioned.
I read this as an audio book and very much enjoyed Saskia Maarleveld’s narration. I could easily distinguish the characters and even enjoyed the occasional background noises/music added for effect. Lady Smoke will be the second installment of this trilogy. It will be released spring of 2019 and I definitely intend to read it as soon as possible.