Book Review

Lady Smoke

Lady Smoke

  • Author: Laura Sebastian
  • Genre: YA Fantasy
  • Publication Date: February 5, 2019
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press
  • Series: Ash Princess #2

Rating: 4 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: blood, mention of medical experimentation, violence, mention of torture, death, murder, suicide, forced drugging, gore

The sequel to the instant New York Times bestseller that was “made for fans of Victoria Aveyard and Sabaa Tahir” ( Bustle ), Lady Smoke is an epic new fantasy about a throne cruelly stolen and a girl who must fight to take it back for her people.

The Kaiser murdered Theodosia’s mother, the Fire Queen, when Theo was only six. He took Theo’s country and kept her prisoner, crowning her Ash Princess–a pet to toy with and humiliate for ten long years. That era has ended. The Kaiser thought his prisoner weak and defenseless. He didn’t realize that a sharp mind is the deadliest weapon.

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. Only, securing an army means she must trust her aunt, the dreaded pirate Dragonsbane. And according to Dragonsbane, an army can only be produced if Theo takes a husband. Something an Astrean Queen has never done.

Theo knows that freedom comes at a price, but she is determined to find a way to save her country without losing herself.

After the cliffhanger ending of the first book, Julie @ One Book More and I couldn’t wait to jump into this one to find out what happens next. So we jumped in and read furiously because we just had to know what was going on in this wonderfully written story. We had our theories about the characters, but let me get into the review to discuss it.

We both liked Theo and how she turned out despite all she’s been through. It’s been a struggle for her, going from being a traumatized prisoner of the physically and emotionally abusive Kaiser to a free woman learning how to be a queen. However, she doesn’t have a throne, doesn’t really have a people anymore, and doesn’t have any actual power. She’s reliant on some dubious allies and her core group of found family to help her, as she learns how to step into this new role and figure everything out.

“Though they’ve all been perfectly civil toward me since I came on board, there is no doubt in my mind that I don’t live up to whatever idea they had of Astrea’s rebel queen.”

The only problem is, she’s stepping right into another problem. In order to take back her country, she’s going to need an army. And to get that, she’s going to need to ally with a country who can match the Kalovaxian army currently squatting in her lands. But Astrean queens don’t take husbands, and she is forced to make a difficult choice, even as she’s already torn between two loves. 

“So much of my life has happened without my consent. Feeling like I have no control even here and now makes my chest feel like it’s caving in around my heart and lungs.”

This subject came up a lot: neither Julie or I really like love triangles, but this one is done so beautifully. It felt like Blaise felt like the comfortable, familiar love and she associates it with her past from before everything went bad, while Soren is a completely different type of love, that represents something new and different, that has been built on what her future could be. And the relationship between Theo and each man is so different, that it doesn’t just feel like she can’t choose between them, but rather they appeal to different sides of her. So much of what Theo says is about how much she’s already sacrificed and is willing to sacrifice for her country, but for a lot of the book, it felt like she was being stubborn and really wasn’t willing to give anything up any more.

“‘The hero never wins if they don’t sacrifice what they love to do it. You want everything, and you aren’t willing to give anything up to get it—not your freedom or me or the Prinkiti.’”

And through it all, she’s still dealing with the aftereffects of a decade in the Kaiser’s grasp. She struggles with feeling like she’s more like him than not, and hears echoes of him in her own statements and thoughts. It causes her so much anguish when she considers that she might be more like him than she realizes:

“Again, I can’t help but hear the Kaiser in my mind, guiding my actions.”

While there isn’t necessarily as much action in the first half of the book, there’s a lot of character growth in this story. We get to see who Theo becomes when she has the choice and the freedom to grow, and we see who the other characters really are outside of the stifling enclosure of the Kaiser’s castle, and even a queer romance building for one of my favorite side characters! I loved seeing different sides of Artemisia especially, since I always thought that anyone who seems so feral and vicious is clearly hiding something soft on the inside, especially when we learn a bit more about her lineage. And most importantly, we learn so much more about Blaise that really changed how I see him. He’s so much more like Theo than I expected, and like the rest of her found family, he’s got her back 100%.

“‘You don’t need to look like a queen—you already are one. Show them the girl who was brilliant enough to escape from under the Kaiser’s nose, who’s fierce enough to protect her people with her life, who’s strong enough to stand on her own two feet, even with the weight of the world on her shoulders. You are a queen, Theo, and they would be mad not to follow you.’”

In addition, we have Soren, who absolutely won my heart over in this book. He doesn’t have an easy time of it at all, and all I wanted was for things to be a little easier for him! Poor guy just goes from one obstacle to the next, and his challenges are a bit different from everyone else’s, but I loved seeing how strongly Theo is devoted to him, even though she can’t show it overtly at the risk of losing support from her followers for showing preference to someone who is viewed as “the enemy.”

Finally, the book ends on a cliffhanger (as usual), and rather than waiting a bit to start the next buddy read, we clearly had to jump into it immediately. Trust me when I say that if you read this? You’ll want to have book three lined up to start right away. It’s a big cliffhanger. There’s some plot twists in this story, and while the big one is relatively predictable, there’s a bunch that aren’t and kept me hooked. Sebastian writes a fascinating story with believable characters, one of the best love triangles I’ve ever seen, and great political intrigue.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 18

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