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Lady Smoke: Ash Princess, Book 2

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Lady Smoke: Ash Princess, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Warring kingdom sequel not as compelling as Book 1.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers who know their history can compare the actions of the Kalovaxians to the Spanish Conquistadors in South America from the 16th century on, especially the Spanish in Bolivia who forced the native population into the mines. Instead of gold and silver, the mines in Astrea harness the power of the elements Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Focus on the nature of these classical elements goes all the way back to Ancient Babylon and the Chinese Wu Xing system.

Positive Messages

Like Ash Princess, Lady Smoke weighs the value of one life vs. many, and whether a son should pay for the sins of the father. In this book, we see the hard life of refugees and how their needs are barely met, even in the richest of societies. Those wielding and seeking the most power seem the least inclined to help others, while those who have suffered seem more attuned to others' suffering.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Theodosia (Theo) makes huge strides in the first book, from victim to exiled ruler. Here she struggles to own her title of queen and make decisions that impact others' lives. In the end she sacrifices herself to keep others safe. LGBTQ representation appears in this book appears in three characters, including a bisexual empress who attempts to woo the queen.

Violence

Assassinations by poisoning and burning -- one of the deaths is heavily mourned by main character. People burned to death, including children. Battles at sea and on land with many casualties -- only slip throats and a stabbing up close. Prisoner beaten, people knocked unconscious, more poisons that lead to pain and passing out, a hand cut off, and talk of the torture of prisoners. References to the main character's 10 years of torture and how she was forced to kill her own father with a sword. Talk of genocide: Most Astreans are killed or enslaved in mines that make them go mad, and then experimented on and blown up.

Sex

Kissing on a bed and spending the night. Talk of affairs at court, and virginity examinations for female suitors (and the hypocrisy that men aren't also tested before marriage).

Language

"Whore," "ass," and "damn," not often.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Sixteen-year-olds get drunk on wine and wake up hungover. Wine at many dinners and other formal gatherings.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lady Smoke is the second in the Ash Princess fantasy series. The intensity of the first volume is toned down here. There are deaths from assassinations -- from poison and fire -- and throats are slit on the deck of a ship, but all battle-style action is seen from afar. Readers of Ash Princess will remember how Theodosia lost both her parents and was tortured by the usurper king for 10 years, and how her people were subjected to torture and genocide. Other mature content includes some kissing and sleeping in the same bed and 16-year-olds getting drunk on wine. We see the difficult lives of Astrean refugees in Lady Smoke and how a kingdom with great power and wealth starves them and treats them as "bad luck" and other. Those with little power, but who have known suffering are the ones determined to help them.

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What's the story?

In LADY SMOKE, Theodosia and Soren are picked up by the pirate Dragonsbane's ship after their escape from Soren's father, the Kaiser. Dragonsbane has a plan for Theo to win back Astrea from the Kaiser: marry her off to an eligible leader with money and troops to fight him. Theo isn't thrilled -- by tradition, Astrean queens do not marry -- but is willing to meet suitors and decide. So they sail to the desert kingdom of Sta'Crivero where King Etristo has gathered numerous royal suitors for a price. The kingdom is modern and affluent and Theo begins to get caught up in the spectacle of being on display in ball gowns. But that all changes when she visits her Astrean people in the refugee camps. People are starving and stuck behind walls unless they're called upon for cheap labor. That prompts Theo to decide on a suitor who can help save her people. But moments before she can extend an offer, her best prospect is poisoned in front of her.

Is it any good?

With far too much reflection and dialogue and far too little immediate action, this sequel fails to maintain the same visceral, absorbing energy as the first book. This sophomore effort of author Laura Sebastian falls into all the sequel traps, the worst being a long wait to the final action. Theo sits in a foreign palace not wanting to get married for hundreds of pages. When she gets out among her people in the refugee camps, she's moved to action, but so slowly that the reader will know what the plan should have been a whole lot sooner.

Lady Smoke is also slowed down by its main character's lengthy reflections. Many of this commentary feels redundant, as it's shown through the actions of the characters. The rest should have been shown this way to pull the story forward. It's so much better to show than tell, and it adds an immediacy for the reader. And when we get to the end, the expected battle, readers are also watching from a distance. Let's hope Sebastian comes back to the excitement she found in Ash Princess for her final installment.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the refugees in Lady Smoke. How are they treated by the country that took them in? What stigma do they face? Do you think there are enough resources for them?

  • Theodosia is willing to sacrifice her own happiness to marry someone who can help save her kingdom. What injustices does she face in the bargain? How are the standards different for women marrying for power and men?

  • Will you read the next in the series? What do you think is in store for Theodosia?

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