I originally thought this was going to be an interesting retelling of Cinderella, which excited me a lot after Cinder became my all time favorite retelling collection, but this is actually so much better than a retelling. The book is more fantasy than I normally read, but I had been more intrigued whenever I read the description and realized that it is not a retelling at all. The Ash Princess is the title that Theodosa is given after her mother is murdered, her country is taken, and she’s even stripped of her name. She is known as the Ash Princess in a country that had a Fire Queen when it ran itself but had since been taken over by the tyrannical king of a country that invades like a virus. It’s a title meant to shame and torment her.
We meet Theodosa, or Thora as she is called in the story itself, ten years after the takeover on yet another terrible as she is accustomed to having. Her circumstances are interesting and sinister. The world building is amazing. It would be my favorite part if not for this one quirk of Thora’s. She is constantly underestimating the women around her. She plays her part and doesn’t realize that everyone else is doing the exact same thing. She survives without realizing that’s all most of them are doing. None of this is a spoiler. It’s amazing and fun to read this quirk, particularly since the way that female characters have changed in the last decade.
I know there were always outliers, but I have been far less likely to read an underestimated female character than before. Then again, it may have just been my reading tastes. The point is that though the world they live in may underestimate them, I don’t think the writers do anymore, and it makes it all much more interesting. This is not because I happen to be female too, either. It’s just that they now present even more people of different interests in these worlds and even more people who can throw off or aide the protagonist.
These complications and the way Thora never seems prepared for them are my favorite thing about this book. And then the magnificent world building. If the next two books hold at this level, this trilogy is about to be on my list of favorite YA fiction along with the Lunar Chronicles, Hunger Games, Mara Dyer, Finishing School, An Ember in the Ashes series, and the Shatter Me series.
The writing is beautiful and there were definitely moments I found myself revisiting for a few days before I could bring myself to move on. I have a hold on the other two books but it’s going to be hard to resist not breaking down and just buying them. I loved all of the characters, sinister or not, for how well they were written. Everyone was complex, even when they weren’t, if that makes sense.