In YA, everyone piles onto the bandwagon of the latest trends. A few years ago it was dystopian fiction but now we've a glut of fantasy on our hands. As someone who loves fantasy, this should be a good thing, but the YA machine keeps churning out subpar, derivative works that are less good world-building and action-heavy plots than wallpaper fantasy settings for tepid romance.
In this regard, ASH PRINCESS is no exception.
I'm really annoyed about that because the book started out really good. Theodosia is the ex-princess of a country that has been invaded by conquerors. All of her people are slaves but for some reason they keep her around as a court mockery, forcing her to wear an ash crown that stains her clothes, while mocking her and subjecting her to public beatings for her people's infractions.
Obviously this means that when rebellion inevitably stirs from resentment about the genocide and the slavery and the torture, Theodosia is going to be chosen as the figurehead. And her jaded bitterness in the beginning gave me hope that despite the stupid names for everything (kaiser and prinz, seriously? why German names if it's not a German-inspired country? did you just choose foreign words for ruler than sounded "exotic"), I was hoping that this would be a fantasy novel cast in the mold of THE WINNER'S CURSE, my ultimate favorite.
The problem occurs when Theodosia is supposed to seduce the - cringe- "prinz," Soren, in order to get information about his people and their future plans for conquering before killing him. She drops that jaded bitterness right quick and Bella Swans it up, despairing about how much it'll hurt to kill such a cute boy when she betrays him, conveniently forgetting about all her people dying in slave mines. Similar whining occurs when she realizes she may have to kill her best friend, the daughter of the evil kaiser's closest adviser and the man who whips her before everyone to punish her.
Great choice in friends.
The other side of the love triangle is Blaise, one of her own people who is involved with the revolution. She's known him since childhood, although she never mentions him until he shows up on the scene bringing tidings of revolution. Go figure. I didn't really care for him, but after I found out that Prinz Soren is a cat murderer, he could never redeem himself for me. I guess I don't find wishy-washy heroes who can't stand up to their tyrant fathers and kill small animals attractive?
Theodosia does, though. She hardly bats an eye at the cat murdering bit.
I'm giving this 2.5 stars because it was entertaining and the concept of elemental "Spiritgems" giving people powers over fire, air, water, and earth kind of sounded like something straight out of one of those JRPGs, specifically the Mana series (in fact, if you haven't watched it already, I recommend that you check out CollegeHumor's "Every JRPG Ever." It's weirdly appropriate for this book). The world really should have been developed more, and Theodosia should have had more of a spine (and less of an, "oh, woe is me! I'm in love with two boys!" attitude). You know a heroine's in hot water when your sympathies lie with the people telling her to get her act together and not with the heroine herself. Like, "Yeah, get your act together! You're an effing princess! Stop dallying around!" But then again, this is YA fantasy and at this point, I pretty much come in expecting to be disappointed.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
2.5 out of 5 stars