Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Ash Princess


Book Title: Ash Princess
Author: Laura Sebastian
Series: Ash Princess #1
Date Started: February 28th 2018
Date Completed: March 11th 2018
Genres: Romance, Fantasy
Quality Rating: Two Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Three Star
Final Rating: Three stars

◆ Thanks to Macmillan and NetGalley for this review copy ◆

I don't like saying something is copying everyone else because I think there are millions of ways to make something very familiar just a little bit different - and that little change can dramatically change everything. That being said, while Ash Princess feels like it's heading in new directions at times, it skirts the edge and carries on as predicted. In all fairness, I think it had good elements, but it needed a few more times through editing before it was ready.

The biggest thing I've seen people talking about (who disliked it anyway) has been about the cruelty. Now, I like dark twisted stuff, and I like explorations of tough subjects. But I like them because I like stories dealing with the bad things in the world and looking at how we as humans can get past them. But Ash Princess was carelessly cruel. It used subjects like torture, being a hostage, riots, murder and sexual harassment as plot devices, and that's where it crosses the line for me. I don't have a problem with any of it in substance, but the style in which it was applied used it to further the plot and not to explore tough themes. This meant that it wasn't believable and it wasn't purposeful either.

I was also a put out by the fact that the author's writing was so clearly geared towards her final 'twist'. I knew who the surprise antagonist was going to be at the end because Sebastian was against them from the start. It was perhaps meant to be the twist that would set this out from the thousands of other YA captured queen books. Sadly, the side-story it comes from was revisited for seemingly no reason and flung around with such volatility that it was quite clear from the get-go.

A big part of the reason that this book falls so hard when it comes to believability is that there's no preamble. We get thrown straight into what's happening, and not for a story reason. We need to believe that Theo's lived in captivity and been tortured for the resistance of her people for 10 years, but within the first dozen pages the rebels have infiltrated the castle and are plotting with her. There isn't enough establishment of her position in the castle, of the severity of the rebel cause, Theo's mental state etc. It might say a few things in exposition but it feels like a weak-ass system of guards, politics and torture (and yes, I have said how violent the torture is - do you see my problem?).

On top of that, Theo's character doesn't make sense. In stories like these, the heroine is so key to pulling everything together, and Sebastian can't quite keep hold of her. She's painfully passive in a painfully cruel world - which is fair enough. I'm all for letting protagonists struggle in situations where you'd be insane not to struggle in. I'm not accepting people saying she's not kick-ass enough to be a heroine. Women can be quiet and still be strong. The issue is when she's suddenly observant, strategic, devious the second a rebel turns up on her doorstep. After being trapped for 10 years, suddenly everyone's in love with her, and she's a tough queen. By the end I liked her, but she didn't have a believable arc. You can't victimise someone in such an exaggerated way and then say 'she's fine' and get on with the story. Struggle is okay, especially in the dramatic form of a novel, but you can't dismiss trauma like that whenever you feel like it.

It's fine, and it has potential. But too much speed and not enough haste makes it nothing particularly special, especially in a market so oversaturated with fantasy heroines trapped into castles with evil conquerors who inevitably fall in love with their sons. It's all the tropes we're bored of, but in a less effective way (we're told who someone is, the position they have and what they mean to Theo AFTER they've been introduced - even copy and paste-ing the exposition paragraph two pages earlier would make it more impactful). A couple more times in edits were needed I think.

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