ARC Review: Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

ash princess

Title: Ash Princess

Author: Laura Sebastian

Publisher: Delacorte Books (Macmillan Children’s Books in UK)

Date: 24th April 2018 (14th June 2018 for UK)

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I was lucky enough to have been approved to read an ARC of Ash Princess from Macmillan Children’s Books on NetGalley. While this book doesn’t come out until June, I thought it best to post my review now for those who are in the US and those who can buy the book on Book Depository. I was drawn to this because it sounded like some other YA fantasy books that I loved in the past and I wanted to see if it would live up to them. In the end I found myself really enjoying Ash Princess and while it had a few tropes (love triangle anyone?) I didn’t actually mind them. If anything, I thought it was quite refreshing.

When she was six years old, Theodosia saw her mother brutally murdered when her kingdom was invaded by a tyrant known as the Kaiser. Since then he has kept her captive and either slaughtered or enslaved her people. Whenever they tried to start rebellions he took it out on her, whipping and beating her to send a message to her people. To them she is just the Ash Princess, a mockery, but she can only keep up the pretence for so long. When her last hope dies, she seeks out revenge and with the help of her people she concocts a plan to murder the Prinz. But as she grows close to him she realises that her feelings may not be as fake as she wants them to be. In the end, only she can decide what she will do to save her people.

There are a few traits of this story that relate to another famous series, but it was also unique in its own way. It starts off a little slow, as most fantasies do, but the world is slowly built up and we gain an understanding of what happened to Theo’s home, Astrea. Sebastian creates a brutal world where there is no hope until one girl decides to fight back. Throughout the book we find out more about the world, but one aspect I enjoyed was the magic and how it came about. Some Astreans have magical powers gifted from their Gods and they are enhanced with gems that come from the mines, which of course the Kaiser would harvest for himself, even though they cannot wield the magic in the same way.

I will warn you that there are some tough topics in this book, which include abuse, slavery and hints of rape. There were scenes that were tense and horrible to read, especially towards the end of the book, but they led to Theo’s penultimate decisions. Race plays a part as well, as the Kaiser and his people are fair haired with pale skin and the Astreans have olive skin with dark hair, something that is pointed out a few times within the book.

Unable to keep the name Theodosia, she became known as Thora, as the Kaiser wouldn’t allow her to use her royal name, and instantly we know that her life is one that has been spent walking on eggshells, cowering from the Kaiser and his men, and one that was torturous. But as the story goes on we see her finding the willpower to fight back and to be stronger than she has been. There was definitely some great character development and I enjoyed seeing her embrace her heritage.

The other characters in this story were likeable, especially Cress, the daughter of the man who killed Theo’s mother, but who treated her like a sister. Their friendship was sweet in places, especially in the beginning. However, as Theo became closer to the Prinz, you could see cracks start to form. Soren, the Prinz was a complicated character. I wanted to like him, but at the same time I was always waiting for him to become his father. The love triangle enters the story with Blaise, an Astrean who lived at the palace when Theo was young. As far as love triangles go, this one wasn’t hard to stomach and I’m looking forward to the second book where I’m sure it will feature more.

Overall, I found myself flying through Ash Princess and when I was past 75% I didn’t want to stop reading! The ending was great and sets up the second book up perfectly. It will be intriguing to see what happens to all the characters and how their stories will weave in to each other. Ash Princess was a great debut and manages to reach four stars in my opinion.

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ARC Review: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

the belles

Title: The Belles

Author: Dhonielle Clayton

Date: 6th February 2018

Publisher: Orion Publishing Group

This book blew me away. From the incredible writing and mesmerising descriptions, to the detailed characters and plot twists. I loved everything about this book. I can’t even think of something bad to say. I feel so lucky to have been approved on NetGalley to read The Belles before it comes out in February. At first I didn’t know what to expect from this book and I think that is why the story has completely captivated me and the ending has left me wanting more. As any good book should.

In Orléans beauty is everything and without it you are nothing. The Belles were created to gift the people, known as the Gris, with beauty after they were cursed with grey skin, red eyes and straw like hair, cursed for life. The Belles can use their talents to transform how people look and because of that they are precious to the people of Orléans, most of all to the Queen and the Princesses. Camellia is a Belle, but it isn’t enough. She wants to be the favourite, the one the Queen picks to live in the palace and tend to the royal family. It is all she has ever wanted, but not everything is as it seems. Camellia soon learns that there are secrets lurking within the castle and that her powers could put her in grave danger. The Queen has asked her to do something that seems impossible and it could mean risking her life to help the princess who hasn’t woken from her coma. Camellia has to make a choice and either one could have grave consequences.

The first thing I noticed about this book was how Clayton brought everything to life. As I was reading the descriptions of Orléans and the way of the Belles, I could see the vivid colours, taste the delicious delicacies and smell the flowers blooming. Everything was so clear and it felt as though I was right there, that I was Camellia. I haven’t felt that strongly for a book in a while and I found myself wanting to read more and more. As the story progresses and we learn more about the world of Orléans, their customs and the history of the Belles, the secrets unravel in such an intriguing way. Not everything is as it seems and there is always a hint of something darker lurking.

I was so interested in how Clayton came up with the idea of this novel and how she exposed the darkness that comes with wanting to be beautiful and what people would be willing to risk to achieve it. Her note at the end of the book put it all into perspective. How much would we change about ourselves if we could? It’s a dangerous question to ask and shows our obsession with waning to be perfect, something that is mirrored perfectly in The Belles.

All of the characters in this book were amazing, each with their own voice and they were so well developed, which is something that can be difficult to do when there are a lot of characters. Camellia is kind, strong, so sure of herself and inspiring. She wants to do so much good for the people of Orleans, but at the same time she yearns for the times with her sisters and before she became the favourite. She has a strong voice that wants to be heard and eventually is, proving that staying quiet never helps a situation.

The Belles had me gasping in shock and my blood boiling, cursing the spoilt Princess Sophia who is never satisfied with her looks and is, in fact, monstrous. She elicited such a strong reaction in me and that is when you know a character has really come to life, even if they are cruel and vindictive.

The last quarter of the book had me flipping through the pages faster and faster, needing to reach the end. There was twist after twist, as horrifying details emerged and the lives of the characters were at risk. The Belles has left me wishing I had the next book in my hands because I need to know how it will all end.

Overall, this book has become one of my favourites very quickly. Definitely in the top ten and it is one that I could read again, which isn’t something I say often. It challenges our ideas of what is beautiful and shows us how far some people will go to reach those standards, even if it destroys who they are inside. This book deserves all the love it is receiving and more. A five star read for me!

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