Ash Princess (Ash Princess Trilogy #1) by Laura Sebastian
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.
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This is one that’s been on my TBR for a while now, and I’m so glad I finally dove in. First of all, that cover though…! It’s gorgeous and detailed and ominous, and sets the stage very well for the story that follows once you crack the cover. The setting was new, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve read quite a few “princess of ruined country must stand up against the evil conqueror” stories, but never have I read one where the princess has been a captive of the conqueror. And not just a captive, but a surviving captive.
“You’re a lamb in the lion’s den, child. You’re surviving. Isn’t that enough?”
Ah, but Thora/Theo/Theodosia (I did enjoy the multiple names/faces that Theo used to get through her captivity) soon learns that surviving isn’t enough.
Laura Sebastian’s world-building was very well done, too. The plot dives right in, but the backstories and explanations are clever enough that they don’t feel forced. Theo interacting with Cress sets up the backstory for Theo’s loss and captivity. A mention of language brings about the laws laid down by the ruling Kaiser. It’s all very smoothly done and introduces you to the Ash Princess’ world without feeling like you’re missing details.
Perhaps the one overplayed theme is the love triangle. Theo falls for Soren but has someone from her past reemerge, and, oh dear, who is the right one to follow? And in the meantime, Theo’s best friend gets jealous over one half of Theo’s loves. There were some enjoyable points to the romance, but toward the end, the pull between the two men just felt a little… tired I guess. I’m definitely interested in seeing who she’ll eventually settle for since there are pros and cons to both suitors, so we’ll see how that shakes out in Lady Smoke when it comes out this year.