4 / 5 stars
Read in October 2019
Book #2 in the Ash Princess trilogy
Such a good second book! I honestly didn’t think I would enjoy this series as much as I have, and I am soooo pleasantly surprised and happy to give this book 4 stars. Light spoilers ahead if you haven’t already read the first book in this installment.
Unlike Ash Princess, which included a lot of character and world building exposition, Lady Smoke allowed me to dive right into the action. It felt like embarking on an adventure with friends I already knew fairly well, but whom I looked forward to getting to know even better, hoping vehemently that they would succeed every step of the way.
We follow Queen Theodosia, or Theo, across the ocean as she escapes from the cruel Kaiser. With her loyal entourage in tow, Theo worries for the friends she left behind in Astrea, including the vengeful Cress whom she still cares for despite their recent falling out. When Theo and her squad arrive in Sta’Crivero, Theo learns that in order to secure an alliance to take back her kingdom, she must select a husband from the suitors presented to her by the king.
Theo’s love triangle remains present throughout this nearly 500 page novel, with a slight bias towards the noble Prinz Søren over the troubled childhood friend, Blaise. However, for the most part, the romantic subplots take a backseat to the political intrigue and Theo’s arc of coming into her own as queen.
Sebastian’s writing improved drastically in this novel; like the first novel, most of this story takes place in one location, but each chapter felt fresh and exciting. I was always looking for an excuse to get back to my book. Like Theo, I wasn’t sure who to trust or what move she should make next, and I struggled with her as her own feelings and interests clashed with the needs of her country.
Resilient, calculating Queen Theo was once again my favorite character in this novel, though my love for the entire cast grew throughout the story (looking at you, Art). Surprisingly, I would even say that I have a soft spot for Dragonsbane, someone I definitely didn’t trust going into this novel and doubted throughout most of the story.
She looks at me with narrowed eyes. “You’re playing a dangerous game,” she says .
It takes effort to hold back a laugh. “I’ve played worse.”
I will say that some of the plot did seem slightly contrived, including the liberation of the refugees and the too-easy commandeering of a dozen ships from the Sta’Criveran harbor. Additionally, the final battle unfolded a bit too quickly and could have been drawn out more to match the pacing and intensity of the earlier parts of the book.
Lastly, while this story had a bit more magic than the first book, Astrean magic still wasn’t developed or explored as much as I hoped it would be. Fingers crossed for alllll of the magic in Ember Queen!