It’s no surprise that Ash Princess reached top five in The New York Times Bestseller list shortly after I finished reading it.
This was the type of book that had to be stretched out for a couple of days, not because it was difficult to get into, but because I wanted to extend the experience as long as possible. I wanted to remain in Astrea with Ash Princess Theodosia Eirene Houzzara.
As far as young adult fantasy novels go, the premise of the novel isn’t a particularly new concept (nothing really is these days). But Laura Sebastian weaves the characters’ personalities so well that you want to get to know them all, even the antagonist— because really, what kind of childhood must he have had to make him so brutal and twisted?
Ash Princess follows the life of Theodosia, aka Thora, the last remaining member of Astrea’s royal family. Kalovaxians invaded the kingdom and killed the Queen—Theodosia’s mother—in front of her when she was only six.
The Kalovaxian Kaiser decided to keep Theodosia alive as a pawn in his game against the remaining Astrean rebels. She is a prisoner in her own palace and one that the Kaiser joyfully punishes every time the rebels attack the Kalovaxians. Theodosia’s back is a map of scars from years of being whipped in front of the whole kingdom. She wears a crown made of ash every time the Kaiser holds an event—a way to mock her and her people before the eyes of the world.
For a decade, Theodosia has lived a life of abject humiliation, pain and isolation. There is no one she can trust. Her one and only friend, Crescentia, is the daughter of the soldier who killed her mother. But Theodosia clings to her anyway, because there is no one else who is kind to her.
One day, her childhood friend Blaise suddenly appears in the palace after years of being forced to work in the mines, like most Astreans. He has a plan to free her from her prison. Theodosia is gladdened by this chance of freedom, but can she really leave it all behind knowing that what remains of her people is suffering under the Kaiser’s rule? Can she find a way to fight back when the only life she’s ever known in the last decade has been riddled with oppression?
Sebastian weaves a beautiful universe in Ash Princess, one that takes the reader through a throng of emotions every single chapter. You can see the Astrea of Theodosia’s childhood before it was destroyed by the Kaiser. You feel her isolation, her resignation to a life of slavery. You rejoice when she finds her strength, and you celebrate her triumphs, no matter how small. You experience her rise from the ashes—from being a prisoner and a toy, to being a rebel and a Queen.
This is the first book in a series, and it sets the tone of the adventure for the next books. A word of caution to readers, however—Sebastian has been questioned online many times about the violence in her book, so be warned if you are sensitive to themes of abuse. Other than that, enjoy Theodosia’s adventure. This one is a page-turner.
Kristyn M. Levis is the creative director of 3C Digital. Her first novel, The Girl Between Two Worlds, was published in 2016. Book Two, The Girl Between Light and Dark, is out now.