Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on April 24, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
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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.
If you were drawn by the cover of this title, DON’T FALL FOR THE TRAP. Seriously, I love a good rebellion story and a beautiful crown on the cover. But Ash Princess did not deliver on many of its promised components, and I ultimately found it a very boring read. I feel like the book could have been cut 200 pages short if the writing and narrative were more concise. Heck, I could explain the whole plot in about 10 minutes if I needed to. I really wouldn’t recommend this except for fans who are lured by the cover. Be warned!
The story is told from the first person perspective of Theodosia, aka Theo, aka Thora, a fallen princess with multiple names. Let’s just call her Theo for simplicity’s sake. Princess Theo saw her mother killed before her eyes when she was around six years old and now attends the new kingdom’s court gatherings as the “Ash Princess,” wearing a crown of ash and reminding people of the inferior old rule. The plot of the book is galvanized by her coming into contact with rebels and seeing a face from the past. Most of the story is basically Theo’s narrative going like, “I have lived in the shadows too long. I must take hand in rebellion for my kingdom and my people,” but only in different words, several times throughout the book.
‘I let my fear cow me, I let them cow me. But I’m done. I’m going to make them pay. For everything they’ve done to us, to our country.To our fathers and our mothers. Will you help me?’
I’ve read a lot of generic YA fantasies this past year, some with beloved tropes, and some with tropes that I wish I’d seen the last of years ago. Unfortunately, Ash Princess falls into the latter category. There’s a love triangle that is utterly useless and is rooted on no solid or justified emotion, a morally complex prince who doesn’t want to be like his cruel father, and a bratty, sheltered “best friend” who Theo has sympathy for even though this friend’s father killed hers. (I admit, the plot line of the “best friend” is the only well-written one that I was invested in.) Let’s deconstruct these three things, alongside the overall message of “saving her people” even though Theo knows like four Astreans (aka her people).
This Useless Love Triangle
Sometimes love triangles are well-written, but Ash Princess uses it in a pretty sloppy way. Actually, the whole concept of romance is just eye-roll-inducing in this book. It’s the type of book where Theo kisses one love interest RIGHT AFTER kissing another, and then stating her love of the second guy in her mind right before telling everyone about her “true” feelings for the former dude. Are y’all keeping up? I couldn’t get myself to care for the romances at all. Honestly Theo should just team up and run away with her best friend character Cress at this point.
The “Morally Complex” Prince
LISTEN, this prince’s feelings had no foundation at all. Theo even says herself that his interest is probably from pity. Their only dialogue is her reassuring him that he’s not like his father, aka evil. That is… the saddest basis for a romance I have ever read. No, f that. I don’t need this kind of power imbalance. Also the fact that she still has feelings for him even though he massacred so many of her beloved “people.” That’s just plain unhealthy.
Also, is no one else uncomfortable by the fact that the nation that is overthrowing others, the Kaslovaxians, has language based in German? The king is literally called the Kaiser, which is “emperor/dictator” in German. All the ruling nobles have “pure blonde hair and blue eyes.” I honestly don’t know how to feel about this world basis, especially given the reflection seen in the harsh histories of reality.
The Bratty Best Friend
Look, all I’m saying is that Theo should run away with her! Cress certainly has more in common with Theo than the two dude love interests combined. So.
The world-building… just has no foundation at all. WHERE is the magic?? Literally, one of the first things introduced are these “Spiritgems” that are activated by internal powers blessed by the gods, but Theo doesn’t use them. (For fear of angering her gods, an argument she states multiple times throughout the book.) That is a very shallow argument, and does not reflect her burning passion to give the Kaslovaxians their due.
‘I am angry.
I am hungry.
And I promise myself that one day I will watch them all burn.’
Oh look, another quote that Theo never delivers on. Anyway, like all early 2010 YA fantasies, the book ends with a clear cliffhanger and more problems unsolved than not. Plus the addition of new characters RIGHT at the end of course. I can already see how the other two books in this trilogy will be mapped out at this point, and seeing as none of my beloved tropes are in here, I’ll be skipping the rest. Hope everyone else who loved this enjoy this though! For readers coming in, I would highly recommend to pass this in favor of a fantasy with refreshing characters and storylines. Or pick up one by a marginalized author! Ash Princess is a tale we’ve read too many times.
Trigger/Content Warnings: mention of rape, brutal murders, gore, trauma, mass killings, physical abuse
Rating: 1.5 out of 5