As with the first two parts of this series, I love this finale! Sebastian is amazing and I love the world she built. Though life hasn’t allowed much time for posting, I have been reveling in amazing worlds last month. I finished this series and then The Belles and the Firebird series (end of that series to posted soon too, promise). That said, I haven’t been reading much in the way of nonfiction as I normally do and yoga has been at a standstill, and forget about trying to get through one verse of the Bible lately. Really, things have been nuts and a touch of escapism in fantastic worlds like these has greatly contributed to saving my sanity instead.
If you haven’t read the first book in this series and are debating on getting into it, stop now and go to the Ash Princess review here. As mentioned in that post, this is not a Cinderella retelling but an amazing new story in a new world that is so much fun I can hardly stand it. Lady Smoke, the second book in the series, is amazing and wonderful in it’s own way as well. It is not the toothless middle of a trilogy like so many second books are. It is not merely a step on the path to becoming a hero or any such garbage that has gotten terribly old for me.
Now there’s Ember Queen, where Queen Theodosia must face the enemy she never expected. Things take quite a turn at the end of Lady Smoke. Ember Queen continues with many of the pieces having changed. Though her most loyal are still loyal to Theo, the rest of the world has shifted after her choices in Lady Smoke. Some of the newcomers are on the fence and ready to leave at any moment, which makes for some great intrigue as well.
As expected, the finale is the fight for Theo’s home, so much of the world building should be done by now, but the Kaiserin has changed so much of the Astrean political landscape that the world continues to grow anyway. The feminist arc that Theo went on in the first book isn’t quite over yet and what started out looking like a typically patriarchal world and therefore story has blossomed into this feminist masterpiece. We started with weak Theo needing to be saved, who turned into the girl with the master plan, and now a powerful queen. But it’s truly Crescentia’s arc that makes this more of a feminist story. She was happy to play with people from her unsuspecting place in the patriarchy but now that it’s turned on her, all bets are off.
Meanwhile, the men in this story continue to be spectacular. I wasn’t a fan of the love triangle that started this series, and I’m not happy with the way it was resolved, though I felt it coming since Lady Smoke. That said, I love both Blaise and Soren right to the end of the book. Blaise loves her and is absolutely loyal to her though also his own man in ways she’d prefer he not be. Loyalty and compliance are not the same at all. Soren is devoted to Theo and to making amends for the things he’d done wrong in his life already in ways that go beyond her and what she asks of him.
Heron is loyal as ever but we get more of his backstory here which sets up one of my favorite scenes in the series. Which brings me to hot-headed, unpredictable Eric. I love Eric, since about the first moment in the first book. He’s that every day working man in the beginning and turns into so much more. His arc progresses beautifully, especially given his complicated history and life.
I appreciate the question of what brings resolution in this world more than appeasing the new powers. It’s a long standing problem in history where the end of one war brings on the next one. We have a tendency to make ourselves feel better with tipping the scales in favor of the victor in a way that makes the original perpetrator into the new victim. How do we stop the cycle? Of course, the answer to that question is going to be different from Queen Theodosia than it would be in real life, but it’s still worth working through and seeing different perspective and options in stories such as these.
I loved just about every minute of this series and this finale did not disappoint in any way. I look forward to future books by Laura Sebastian, especially if she continues to play with feminist themes in fantasy such as this series. I loved the subtlety of it in the first book and even part of second, but this one really explodes with it. I recommend this series for anyone who loves fantasy, especially with a little magic, but also feminists looking for a little escape. It’s not even so much the powerful women as much as their varied responses to their world, the way they take their power, who they take it from, who they try to empower, and what about these things that turn them against each other. This isn’t a take down the patriarchy story, either, which is part of what’s brilliant about the setup and the truths it tells about our world. It’s about how we turn on each other and why.