A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ash Princess is the first book in a fantasy series that is not for readers who look for books with the word "princess" in the title. There's a 16-year-old princess, yes, but she's held captive for a decade, whipped repeatedly, and subjected to psychological torture by a Kaiser who has taken over her country, enslaved her people, and killed off most of them. The brutality is pretty close at hand, too. Besides being whipped, the princess is forced to kill her own father with a sword. A 13-year old is forced to drink a poison that burns her from the inside out. Other mature content includes some kissing and 16-year olds drinking wine. The publisher lists this book for early teen readers, but it seems more in line with books for high schoolers, not middle schoolers. High schoolers will more easily grasp the themes in Ash Princess. It examines the high price of governance by fear and absolute power, and whether a son should pay for the sins of the father.
What's the story?
In ASH PRINCESS, Theodosia is a 16-year-old Astrean captive of the conquering Kalovaxians. She lives at court, is close friends with Cress, the gorgeous daughter of the Kaiser's right-hand man, and has a slave do her hair and dress her in fancy gowns. But there are many differences between Cress' life and court and her own. Theodosia is forced to give up her own name. She is Thora to the Kalovaxians. Her old name, which shows her claim to the Astrean throne, is literally beaten out of her. She has three guards watch her at all times, she's whipped every time her people rebel against the Kaiser, and at parties, she's forced to wear a crown of ashes that disintegrates as she wears it. When she's summoned to the throne room for what she expects is another whipping, she discovers a prisoner there. It's her own father, and a prominent Astrean rebel, beaten to near death after an uprising in the mines. Thora/Theo is forced to kill him in front of the court. While the Kaiser revels in his victory, three more rebels kill the princess' guards, secretly take their place, and offer her a quick means of escape. Thora/Theo is tempted, but realizes she can do far more for her people if she stays at court. Especially when the Kaiser's son begins to take a strong interest in her.
Is it any good?
Fans of very dark fantasies should overlook the word "princess" in the title and dive into this absorbing world of cruel conquerors, court intrigue, and budding rebellion. Even though there's a 16-year-old princess who wears pretty dresses and fancies the prince, after 10 years of torture and the genocide of her people, she's also a princess seething with hatred and the need to do something. When Theo is forced to kill her own father, this darker side finally begins to overtake her. And when her guards are killed and replaced by rebels (though it seems highly unlikely, even with magical help, that this won't get noticed) Theo is ready for transformation. Yet ... what to do about the prince?
Author Laura Sebastian does a great job conveying the complexity of Theodosia's relationships -- with the prince who hates his own father; with Cress, the sheltered girl at court who claims to be Theo's friend; and with the rebels who don't trust that Theo is up for the job of leading a rebellion. What's missing is more on how the magic in this world works. We know that Theo thinks it's sacrilege to practice it without training, but know very little about what the power can really do. Perhaps Book 2 will enlighten us.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the jarring violence in Ash Princess. Did it serve the story? Is it ever excessive?
How does the use of Theodosia's reclaiming her true name help her find her courage?
Will you read the next in the series? What do you think will happen to the Ash Princess? Her friends?
- Author: Laura Sebastian
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses and Fairies, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs, Pirates
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Delacorte Press
- Publication date: April 24, 2018
- Number of pages: 448
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
For kids who love fantasy
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.