SERIES: Ash Princess, #2
GENRES/ SUBJECTS: YA Fantasy
REPRESENTATION: Queer Side Characters
The Kaiser murdered Theodosia’s mother, the Fire Queen, when Theo was only six. He took Theo’s country and kept her prisoner, crowning her Ash Princess–a pet to toy with and humiliate for ten long years. That era has ended. The Kaiser thought his prisoner weak and defenseless. He didn’t realize that a sharp mind is the deadliest weapon.
Theo no longer wears a crown of ashes. She has taken back her rightful title, and a hostage–Prinz Soren. But her people remain enslaved under the Kaiser’s rule, and now she is thousands of miles away from them and her throne.
To get them back, she will need an army. Only, securing an army means she must trust her aunt, the dreaded pirate Dragonsbane. And according to Dragonsbane, an army can only be produced if Theo takes a husband. Something an Astrean Queen has never done.
Theo knows that freedom comes at a price, but she is determined to find a way to save her country without losing herself.
A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.
Lady Smoke is the second book in the Ash Princess trilogy. While I enjoyed the first book, I had a few issues with really connecting to the characters and, as I said in my review at the time, I wasn’t entirely sure if I would pick up the sequel. Obviously, I did, and I’m really pleased to say that this one clicked so much better for me. Usually, I find mid-series/trilogy books a bit of a slog, but Lady Smoke was full of drama and action from start to finish.
The novel can (very roughly) be split into three parts:
Theo-the-pirate, clashing with her aunt, the ruthless rebel known as Dragonsbane.
The marriage circus. Full of interesting new characters, lots of politicking and hidden motives.
And an action-packed third act, that I don’t want to give away.
I loved seeing Theo gradually come into her own as a queen-in-the-making as opposed to the princess she was in the previous book. I thought she was smart, making decisions carefully and under-advisement. She’s learning to play the politics game very well, and while she’s very much still a hero-type character, there are moments where she makes difficult decisions. Sebastian has been very clever to examine how Theo’s upbringing in the Kaiser’s court would affect these decisions – and whether Theo regards these changes as positive or negative.
We got to see a lot more of the Shadows and Prinz Soren, especially more of the five characters working together (tension included). Even the romance — which I often struggle with — worked for me. Yes, it’s a love triangle and takes up a lot of Theo’s consideration, but it’s not rushed and its existence didn’t baffle me when there’s so much else going on. Yes, Theo’s a young woman with Feelings TM, but she’s also pretty practical about what she really wants: getting her country back. I do have a side I’m hoping for (and a side-relationship too) but I’m happy to wait and see how it pans out.
I loved that Lady Smoke was a huge step-up in terms of world building. There are ambassadors from many different countries with lots of different forms of governments: patriarchy, matriarchy, elected officials, religious leadership etc. And we see how these leaders feel about the Kaiser’s empire and Theo’s position as Astrea. I loved that the attitudes were so different, for example, the Astreans completely confusion over the concept of virginity, let alone placing value on it.
The last act was so dramatic I flew through it, and I’m incredibly excited to read the final part, Ember Queen, as soon as I can.
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