Lady Smoke (Ash Princess #2), Laura Sebastian

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“Friends, enemies, I don’t think it matters anymore. The chains are just as heavy, no matter who holds the key”

Theo no longer wears a crown of ashes. She has taken back her rightful title, and a hostage–Prinz Soren. But her people remain enslaved under the Kaiser’s rule, and now she is thousands of miles away from them and her throne. To get them back, she will need an army.

* * *
3 / 5

My opinion of Ash Princess was that it was a perfectly fine YA fantasy book. In fact, it seemed to have many popular tropes crammed into it: an orphan princess, a country under the rule of a tyrannical king, the king has a hot son, her hot childhood friend rocks up, and rebellions and love triangles ensue! I like Lady Smoke because it doesn’t feel like it was trying so hard. Lady Smoke felt more natural, it flowed better, and it was more enjoyable because whilst it still wasn’t particularly original, it didn’t feel like it was trying cram in every popular cliché under the sun.

“To Astrea,” Artemesia says, lifting the bottle. “What is was once. What it will be again. And all that we sacrifice for it.”

Theo is aboard the ship of her aunt, Dragonsbane, a battle-hardened pirate. Dragonsbane won’t launch a war on her niece’s behalf but she will bring her to a neutral country, Sta’Crivera, to find a husband with a big army of his very own. Obviously, Theo with one of her fledgling loves, Prinz Soren, in the ship’s brig as her prisoner, and her childhood friend who definitely likes her, has lots of options that she prefers to some random man. But she’s willing to do what she feels she must for Astrea.

Most of this book is taken up with various men (and one woman!) attempting to court Theo and her crown. Tension mounts as Theo and her merry gang infiltrate the refugee camp and find it doesn’t have great conditions, and as bodies start dropping it seems that not everyone is here to marry Theo. But despite this, the book feels quite slow and leisurely and I quite liked that.

“With your bright eyes and crown of ashes and Fire Queen mother. Lady Thora, everyone called you, but I thought of you as Lady Smoke”

Lady Smoke was enjoyable enough, but I wish it had been brave enough to be bold. There’s very little surprising in this book. Yes, most of the book is about Theo looking for a husband but I never once actually expected that she would marry one of them. It would have been great (in my view) for Theo to make a strong move, whether it be marrying Prinz Soren or pledging an alliance based on a marriage that was platonic or indeed making Theo bi and marrying a woman. It would have been nice to read something new, to be surprised. Instead what happens is exactly what you would expect to happen.

I liked Lady Smoke more than Ash Princess. It is a more relaxed, more confident book, but it wasn’t bold enough, daring enough, to have me on the edge of my seat, frantically tearing through the pages. Instead Lady Smoke is a leisurely, comfortable read in which what happens is exactly what you expect.

My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for an ARC of Lady Smoke.

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