Review: Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Ash Princess
Ash Princess
by Laura Sebastian

The story was a little too familiar for me to really love it but this was an enjoyable enough read and a promising start to a new series.


THE BLURB

The queen you were meant to be
The land you were meant to save
The throne you were meant to claim

Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. Ten years later, Theo has learned to survive under the relentless abuse of the Kaiser and his court as the ridiculed Ash Princess.

When the Kaiser forces her to execute her last hope of rescue, Theo can’t ignore her feelings and memories any longer. She vows revenge, throwing herself into a plot to seduce and murder the Kaiser’s warrior son with the help of a group of magically gifted and volatile rebels. But Theo doesn’t expect to develop feelings for the Prinz.

Forced to make impossible choices and unable to trust even those who are on her side, Theo will have to decide how far she’s willing to go to save her people and how much of herself she’s willing to sacrifice to become Queen.

From author Laura Sebastian comes Ash Princess, a nail-biting YA fantasy debut full of daring and vengeance.


MY REVIEW

I wanted to love this but despite some edge of the seat moments this just never really hooked me. It’s not bad, in fact once I hit the halfway point I found it incredibly difficult to put down, it’s just that there’s nothing particularly new or exciting about it. I felt like this was a story I’d read before, more than once, and those parts that were original I wasn’t sure I wanted.

It’s a common story, a young princess whose kingdom was taken over by an evil tyrant has to fight to free herself and her people. Add in special magical powers, a love triangle involving the princess, her best friend from her childhood (boy next door) and the son of the tyrant and this is essentially the same story we’ve heard a number of times (it reminded me a lot of Red Queen).

There are of course some differences, the author has created an intriguing and well set out magic and belief system and I really liked how the main characters religious beliefs played into her actions. I loved how the ideas of one culture being overtaken by another were reflected. There are elements of eradication (bans on using the language for example) but also cultural appropriation and the impact of this on a “native” of the kingdom were very well presented.

What I wasn’t so keen on however was the level of abuse towards women within the story. I do understand why it’s there (and the author has been open in why she included it) but I’m not sure it was necessary to have main character Theodosia (Theo/Thora) being beaten regularly and subjected to mental torture from the age of 6. I generally don’t mind a bit of violence in books but this felt too much to me and while it did bring an edge to the story it was uncomfortable to read (even though very little occurs on the page).

I also think it raised questions over how believable Theo was as a character. I thankfully haven’t had her experiences but her general attitude, actions and responses just didn’t feel right considering the level of abuse she’s been subjected too. As a character there were aspect of her I liked, how she tried to hang on to her memories and beliefs, how she manages to survive and the insecurities she has but there was a lot about her that frustrated me. She’s too hesitant and too trusting and loyal and I just wanted her to act.

As I alluded to there is quite a bit of romance in this and yet another of those dreaded love triangles with one love interest the boy she was best friends with as a child and the other the son of her enemy. I don’t really mind a love triangle and this one is pretty inoffensive. There are some very sweet moments and I particularly loved the relationship between Theo and the Prinz with all of the questions over how much is real and the conflict between love and duty.

What I found especially intriguing romance wise in this book was Theo’s mothers life. She was romantically involved with a number of different men (leading to the question over who Theo’s father was) but committed to no one. It did make me wonder about her kingdom’s attitudes to love and romance and I would have loved for this to be developed further.

As far as the other characters go some were a little cliched but for the most part they were inoffensive. I didn’t really have strong feelings towards any of them with the possible exception of best friend Cress. She was just terrible and honestly I don’t know how Theo couldn’t see it (this was maybe my biggest frustration in this story). The characters I did find intriguing (the Kaiser’s wife for example) didn’t get enough time and I would have liked to see more from the women in the palace.

Story wise I did find this a little slow in the beginning but it does really pick up around the halfway point and from that point on I did find it difficult to put down. There aren’t a lot of surprises, a lot of it has been done before so you kind of know what to expect but I did still enjoy it.

The writing is pretty good and while there is a little bit of info dumping at the start as the author develops the world, the magic system and the religion, there is some real emotion conveyed. I found myself on the edge of my seat at times with the tension created, horrified with the violence and on one occasion I may have shed a tear.

Overall therefore I’d rate it as good but not great. It’s just lacking that little spark and bit of originality to make it something special. I will however no doubt read the sequel when it’s released as now the world building is largely out of the way I think it could really take off.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has in no way influenced my review.

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WWW Wednesday: 23rd May 2018

The WWW Wednesday meme is currently hosted by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words and is a great way to do a weekly update on what you’ve been reading and what you have planned.

WWW Wednesday

To take part all you have to do is answer the following three questions:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

Due to a little bit of a wander off track at the weekend my currently reading list is pretty much the same as last week with the addition of Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik.

The Last Family in EnglandThe Count of Monte CristoStalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1)Spinning Silver

I have to admit I haven’t made much progress on either the Count of Monte Cristo or The Last Family in England. The first I was holding off on as the buddy read only started yesterday so I didn’t want to get too far ahead (and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) and the second I’m just too scared to read as I just know something really upsetting is going to happen.

I have made some reasonable progress on Stalking Jack the Ripper and am past the halfway point now. I only have it on loan for about the next 6 days so I’m going to have to get it finished before I lose it. It’s reminding me a lot of Sherlock Holmes for some reason, which is both good and bad.

I only started Spinning Silver on Monday morning so I’m around a quarter of the way through but I’m absolutely loving it. It’s roughly based on Rumpelstiltskin and has that Russian fairytale element to it that I adore. It is however in a weird file format so I’m having to use the Aldiko app on my phone to read it. The writing is teeny tiny so not the easiest to read (thank goodness I’m short sighted) and it looks like it’s going to self destruct in around 40 days but it’s totally worth it.


Recently FinishedAsh Princess

Only two books finished this week, the first of which was Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian. I have to admit I’m a little on the fence about this one. It’s not bad, in fact once I hit the halfway point I did get hooked and found it difficult to put down, but it’s lacking in originality. It’s about a young girl with special powers who has to find a way to defeat an evil tyrant and free her oppressed people. I feel like I’ve already read this and in fact it reminded me a lot of Red Queen. There is some decent writing though and it did generate some feels.

VoxAfter Ash Princess I couldn’t face another YA fantasy and having received a copy of Vox from NetGalley I couldn’t resist reading a few pages. Needless to say I ended up finishing the whole thing the same day. It’s an absolutely fascinating premise in that in this society women are only permitted to speak 100 words a day. Their role is to stay at home, cook, clean, garden and raise the children while their menfolk make the decisions, go out to work. It’s a little similar to Handmaid’s Tale but without the forced baby factory element. I very much enjoyed it. It’s not out till August so unfortunately too early for a review but I would recommend.


Reading Next

Hmm pretty much the same as last week. I think Spinning Silver is gonna take me a while but it’s a long weekend here so hopefully I can make a start on at least one of these.

Smoke in the Sun (Flame in the Mist, #2)Ace of Shades (The Shadow Game #1)Cross Her Heart

Have you read any of the books on my list this week? Any others you’d recommend? As always please feel free to leave comments and links below.

Happy Reading ❤

Teaser Tuesday: 22nd May 2018

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme hosted by The Purple Booker. If you want to join in grab your current read, flick to a random page, select two sentences (without spoilers) and share them in a blog post or in the comments of The Purple Booker.


This week my teaser comes from Circe by Madeline Miller. Other than a quick skim through the first few pages I haven’t started reading this as yet but as I bought a copy at the weekend (the assistant at the bookstore talked me into breaking my ban for it) I couldn’t resist sharing a teaser. Needless to say it’s from very early on.


My Teaser

Once when I was young I asked what mortals looked like. My father said, ‘You may say they are shaped like us, but only as the worm is shaped like the whale.’

My mother had been simpler: like savage bags of rotten flesh.

~ pg3 Circe by Madeline Miller


BlurbCirce

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.

When love drives Circe to cast a dark spell, wrathful Zeus banishes her to the remote island of Aiaia. There she learns to harness her occult craft, drawing strength from nature. But she will not always be alone; many are destined to pass through Circe’s place of exile, entwining their fates with hers. The messenger god, Hermes. The craftsman, Daedalus. A ship bearing a golden fleece. And wily Odysseus, on his epic voyage home.

There is danger for a solitary woman in this world, and Circe’s independence draws the wrath of men and gods alike. To protect what she holds dear, Circe must decide whether she belongs with the deities she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

ARC Review: Legendary (Caraval #2) by Stephanie Garber

Legendary (Caraval, #2)
Legendary
by Stephanie Garber

I had high hopes for the sequel to Caraval and Legendary surpassed them all. I absolutely loved it and I can’t wait for book three.

Spoiler Alert: As this is the second in the series there may be some spoilers for Caraval from here on in.


THE BLURB

A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister’s. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…the games have only just begun.


MY REVIEW

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Wow this book was just so good. As soon as I finished I wanted to go right back to the beginning and read it all over again. Having read a lot of great reviews and very much enjoying Caraval I did have high(ish) hopes but wow this surpassed them all.

The story picks up not long after Caraval and this time around follows younger sister Tella as she tries to fulfill her side of the deal she made to rescue her sister Scarlett from their abusive father and discover who Legend really is (something I very much wanted to know too). It’s not long before she discovers the only way to find Legend is to take part in the game and win. Tella may think that she’s been behind the scenes and knows it’s not real but this is a very different game from the one her sister played and the stakes have never been higher.

I did wonder how Garber could follow up Caraval and keep the mystery when the reader knows the truth behind it but she does it masterfully. From the very start it’s made clear that this is not the same. There’s no warning that it’s only a game and not to get swept away but instead that this time it’s real. But, is it or is the “it’s all real” just another part of the game? It’s such a wonderful spin that you still can’t help wondering what’s real and what’s not. We know some of the characters from the previous book and we know they’re actors playing a part but there are a few new characters and Legend is known for setting the scene well before the game begins so just what is an act and what is true, is anyone who they appear and just who is Legend? It’s even more confounding when it turns out that one thing we thought we’d discovered in Caraval was not remotely true.

I was right there with Tella as she quickly began to doubt her own convictions and started to question if everyone was in fact playing some kind of game with her. At moments it seems as if even sister Scarlett could be in on the game and don’t even get me started on love interests Dante and Jacks.

While picking up this book felt initially like sinking into a familiar and reassuring world with characters I knew and cared for Garber takes it to a whole new level, developing both the world and the people in it into something completely new, strange and unsettling but consistent with what came before. The magic system is further developed but there’s also more insight into the wider world, its people and the various religious and belief systems which added so much depth and detail I found myself completely immersed in this magical world.

For the most part I also loved how the characters were developed. I hadn’t been keen on Tella in the first book but she really made this story for me. She’d always seemed quite a selfish and shallow character, thoughtless and determined to get her way but it’s not long until we find her motivations were very different from what I believed. I adored how forthright she was. There’s no hesitation. She may be scared or have doubts but she makes a decision and she goes for it, putting on a show that nothing gets to her and relying on the fact that most people (myself included) underestimate her. She is a little reckless and her actions are frustrating at times but she’s young (something I kept forgetting) and it makes for such an exciting and engaging read.

Tella is also incredibly self reliant and I loved how she didn’t look to anyone else to solve her problems. She’s not looking for romance but that’s not to say she doesn’t find some and when she does it is truly swoon worthy. There were more than a few occasions when I just wanted to melt into a big puddle on the floor. I should add a warning that there’s a bit of love triangle going on but both of the love interests are just yummy and not necessarily what they seem. Dante may be flirty and sweet but he’s one of the performers so may be playing a game and Jacks is probably not part of the game but is very mercurial and changes from cold and nasty to charming from one moment to the next. I found myself completely hooked every time Tella had a scene with them.

To be honest though I found myself completely hooked on the story as a whole. It’s full of mystery and intrigue and there were so many sudden reveals and twists my jaw was almost constantly on the floor. There was more than one occasion when I was seriously considering just staying on the train and not going to work so I could keep on reading.

If I had one criticism, and it is pretty minor, I would have liked to see more in terms of the game and the other players. It feels like a very personal game this time and the focus is almost solely on Tella. I couldn’t help wondering what everyone else was doing, what the game was for them. I was also a little disappointed in Scarlett, how little she featured and how she acted. We are seeing her from Tella’s pov but she felt like a very different character than in Caraval.

This is however an absolutely brilliant read and moved the story on so well. The conclusion when it comes is fantastic but left me wanting more. I hope we don’t have too long to wait for the next book, Finale.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are my own

WWW Wednesday: 16th May 2018

The WWW Wednesday meme is currently hosted by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words and is a great way to do a weekly update on what you’ve been reading and what you have planned.

WWW Wednesday

To take part all you have to do is answer the following three questions:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

Ummm….

The Last Family in EnglandAsh PrincessThe Count of Monte CristoStalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1)

Yeah, things seem to have gotten a little out of control on the reading front and I’m currently juggling these four books.

  • I started The Last Family in England by Matt Haig first but given it begins with the dog Prince being taken to the vet to be put down I’m a little bit scared to read it (I think it might break me) so progress has been slow.
  • Ash Princess I’m finding difficult to get into I think because there’s a lot of info dumping at the start and it’s annoying me. Hopefully once it gets going and the world building is out of the way it’ll get better.
  • There’s a buddy read of The Count of Monte Cristo starting in one of the groups on GoodReads so it seemed like a good opportunity to read this chunkster. I have a physical copy and it’s around 1300 pages so I think I’m gonna be reading this for a while.
  • I’ve been wanting to read Stalking Jack the Ripper for a while so was very happy when my hold came in for the audio on Overdrive. I only started listening to it at the weekend so I’m around 2 hours in but so far so good.

Recently FinishedWhen a Scot Ties the Knot (Castles Ever After, #3)

I eased off on my reading last week as I had a new team reading challenge starting, a sick cat and a ton of reviews to actually write up so I only finished two books both of which were really quick historical romances by Tessa Dare, Say Yes to the Marquess and When  A Scot Ties the Knot. They’re probably not going to win any prizes for great literature but they’re funny, light and just really easy. Perfect for a bit of escapism.


Reading Next

I think if I manage to make some progress with my current reads I’ll be doing well but should I finish any I think one of these will be up next.

Smoke in the Sun (Flame in the Mist, #2)Ace of Shades (The Shadow Game #1)Cross Her Heart

Have you read any of the books on my list this week? Any others you’d recommend? As always please feel free to leave comments and links below.

Happy Reading ❤

Teaser Tuesday: 15th May 2018

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme hosted by The Purple Booker. If you want to join in grab your current read, flick to a random page, select two sentences (without spoilers) and share them in a blog post or in the comments of The Purple Booker.


This week my teaser comes from Legendary, the second book in Stephanie Garber’s Caraval trilogy. I received a copy of this from NetGalley and read it last week. I’ve been patiently waiting till closer to release to post a review but I think it’s safe to share a teaser. I loved this book so there were plenty of parts to choose from (I don’t really do the two random sentences thing) but I’ve resisted my initial temptation to use the quote on why messy rooms are a good thing and go for this one.

Please note that while my teaser is spoiler free this is the second book in the series so there may be some spoilers for Caraval in the blurb below.


My Teaser

This was why love was so dangerous. Love turned the world into a garden, so beguiling it was easy to forget that the rose petals were as ephemeral as feelings, eventually they would wilt and die, leaving nothing but the thorns.

~ 11% Legendary by Stephanie Garber


BlurbLegendary (Caraval, #2)

Stephanie Garber’s limitless imagination takes flight once more in the colorful, mesmerizing, and immersive sequel to the bestselling breakout debut Caraval

A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister’s. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…the games have only just begun.

Review: The Good Son by You-jeong Jeong

The Good SonA dark and disturbing story that had me gripped from the very first page until the very last.


THE BLURB

Yu-jin is a good son, a model student and a successful athlete. But one day he wakes up covered in blood. There’s no sign of a break-in and there’s a body downstairs. It’s the body of someone who Yu-jin knows all too well.

Yu-jin struggles to piece together the fragments of what he can remember from the night before. He suffers from regular seizures and blackouts. He knows he will be accused if he reports the body, but what to do instead? Faced with an unthinkable choice, Yu-jin makes an unthinkable decision.

Through investigating the murder, reading diaries, and looking at his own past and childhood, Yu-jin discovers what has happened. The police descend on the suburban South Korean district in which he lives. The body of a young woman is discovered. Yu-jin has to go back, right back, to remember what happened, back to the night he lost his father and brother, and even further than that.

The Good Son deals with the ultimate taboo in family life, and asks the question: how far will you go to protect your children from themselves?


MY REVIEW

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This was such a great read and so different from what I was expecting when I accepted the publisher’s offer of a copy. Based on the reviews I skimmed through prior to picking it up, I will admit I was a little wary. There was a lot of “it’s a slow burn” and “you have to stick with it” but this was not my experience of reading it at all.

From the very first page I found myself gripped and completely immersed in this story. There may not be a huge amount of action (although I should warn it is violent and a little gruesome in places) and it’s heavy on internal monologue and flashbacks (something I usually hate) but the whole story and Yu-jin in particular absolutely fascinated me.

The central premise of “main character awakes to discover a brutally murdered body and has no memory of what happened” is not a unique one but it is one that intrigues me and this author does it so well. The story is told almost entirely from the point of view of Yu-jin and I found being in his head a very interesting experience. There is clearly something not quite right but I found myself drawn to him and wanted to know more.

The truth of what happened to his mother and the reasons behind it are uncovered very slowly over the course of the book as Yu-jin finds clues, makes deductions and recalls the events from the night before (and further into the past) while simultaneously trying to cover everything up for as long as possible. It quickly becomes clear that there was something not right in the relationship between mother and son but, while we’re given the impression that she’s overly controlling and he’s afraid of her (and his Auntie), it’s obvious that Yu-jin may not be the victim he first appears and there could be a reason he’s kept on a tight leash.

I will say I wasn’t necessarily surprised by what is revealed over the course of the story as the author leaves enough hints and clues along the way for you to figure it out but this wasn’t the main draw for me. I was much more invested in what was coming next and what would happen to Yu-jin. I wouldn’t say I liked him, and he admits himself that he’s a skilled liar so you know not to trust him, but I was intrigued by him. Despite being the classic unreliable narrator he is very convincing and I found myself empathizing with him even when I knew I shouldn’t.

There’s a very claustrophobic, dark and disturbing feel to this story and while it’s not all action all of the time there were more than a few moments which had me on the edge of my seat. It is fairly limited in terms of scope, it’s primarily set within the apartment, takes place over a short period of time and there are very few characters (or interactions between them) making it quite quiet and intense but for me this just added to the suspense and anticipation.

The ending when it comes was brilliant but I will admit I found it a little disappointing. It wasn’t bad, I think it was more that the rest of the story had built my expectations up so high that I was expecting more.

If you can’t tell by now I really loved this book and would recommend to anyone who loves a thriller that really gets into a characters head.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. As always all views are my own.