Penguin Random House had a booth at New York Comic Con in 2017 and they did a give away for Ash Princess. Laura Sebastian was standing off to the side and naturally people were lining up for an impromptu signing. As she signed my book I told her I write book reviews and Ash Princess would be going into the “to be reviewed” pile, and here it finally is.
There are several points I want to touch on and what better place to start than with the main character. Theodosia aka Theo aka Thora may be a princess but is a prisoner in the castle she grew up in. The Kalovaxians invaded Astrea, taking over the land, enslaving the people, and keeping Theo close by to ensure her people remain complacent. She’s whipped any time her people are not complacent or an invasion by the Kalovaxians goes badly. She’s a means to the Kaiser’s control and manipulation. The Kaiser requires Thora to attend all formal occasions, sending a new dress with an open back to show her scars, ensuring no one at court forgets who she is. As well as providing an ash crown Thora must wear. Naturally it crumbles, covering her in ash and often falling into her food. I was pleased Sebastian was bold with her descriptions and didn’t shy away from brutal imagery. Sebastian doesn’t sugar coat how gruesome a whipping can be.
We watch as Thora grows as a character, claiming her name back and taking on the responsibility of being the princess who will free her people. The statement “not all battles are won on a battlefield” is an appropriate description for this story. Theodosia doesn’t pretend she’ll have the strength for a physical battle but uses what she’s learned in a Kalovaxian court while she was required to attend all court events. She was mostly shunned, leaving her plenty of time to watch and listen. Using what she’s learned of those around her, she’s able to manipulate them to turn on each other, giving her people a chance to rise up and escape. At least that’s the plan. Theodosia’s transformation is an exciting one to watch and I imagine she’ll only gain more confidence as the story continues.
Sebastian’s debut shows promising things to come in her writing career. While some of this worldbuilding wasn’t the strongest and the ideas weren’t necessarily unique, it’s a solid start. I was pleased with Theodosia’s character development, using her wit to find a way to free her people. I expect this to only get stronger as Theodosia gets stronger. Ash Princess is solid and I’m excited to see where the next two books take Theodosia.