Book Review

Ember Queen

Ember Queen

  • Author: Laura Sebastian
  • Genre: YA Fantasy
  • Publication Date: February 4, 2020
  • Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
  • Series: Ash Princess #3

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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

The thrilling conclusion to an epic fantasy about a throne cruelly stolen and a girl who must fight to take it back for her people.

Princess Theodosia was a prisoner in her own country for a decade. Renamed the Ash Princess, she endured relentless abuse and ridicule from the Kaiser and his court. But though she wore a crown of ashes, there is fire in Theo’s blood. As the rightful heir to the Astrean crown, it runs in her veins. And if she learned nothing else from her mother, she learned that a Queen never cowers.

Now free, with a misfit army of rebels to back her, Theo must liberate her enslaved people and face a terrifying new enemy: the new Kaiserin. Imbued with a magic no one understands, the Kaiserin is determined to burn down anyone and everything in her way.

The Kaiserin’s strange power is growing stronger, and with Prinz Søren as her hostage, there is more at stake than ever. Theo must learn to embrace her own power if she has any hope of standing against the girl she once called her heart’s sister.

Like the first two books in this series, I read this as a buddy read with Julie @ One Book More, aka my new best friend. It’s so cool how something like a buddy read can bring two people together and help us discover how much we have in common, and turn into such a fun experience, especially since we tend to think of reading as a solitary activity.

Okay, now to the book. I did promise Julie that I would incorporate as many gifs as I could into my review, because this book really lends itself to that kind of format. I had to keep reminding myself that the characters in the story are all around 16-19 years old, which explained some of the ridiculous decisions they make. I don’t always trust people that age behind the wheel of a car, let alone making decisions that will affect a country and all the people in it. And Theo falls into that trap at times.

The writing in this story is gorgeous. I loved the balance between the action and the descriptions, the way the world is explored and the relationships and dialogue between the characters. Sebastian manages to pull readers into the story, and leaves us hanging at the end of every chapter, making it a challenge to stop reading. I found myself saying that I’d read “just one more chapter,” then finding myself reading a big chunk, which was extra easy since the chapters were short. 

Theo does a lot of growing in this story. While in the last book, she made a lot of claims about how much she was willing to sacrifice for her country, in this book, she walks the walk. We see her putting action behind the words, and really start to do more than waiting around to be saved. She learns more about the powers that have been slowly building up in her, and spends a lot of time practicing to develop and strengthen her skills with them. I loved that she wasn’t just like, “oh cool I have powers now,” but rather struggled to use them in a realistic way. 

But the major struggle in the story was her conflict with Cress, who is now Kaiserin. We see Cress becoming ever more ruthless and powerful, and as she does so, Theo becomes more empathetic and kind. Theo never loses her humanity, and while she learns to harness her powers in all kinds of ways and gets stronger, its juxtaposed against Cress becoming ever more unstable and weaker, despite all of her power and influence. It was fascinating to watch the imbalance shift in the opposite direction, and to see how it affected each of the women. But we all knew that it was going to come down to a fight between Cress and Theo, no matter what else happened.

“Maybe we are on something of an even field now, but one thing hasn’t changed—she didn’t hesitate to try to kill me herself, and I couldn’t do the same to her when I had the chance. That alone is enough to frighten me.”

Along with that, Cress is surrounding herself with people who she intentionally keeps weaker than herself, while Theo has her little group of found family. Theo’s group all props each other up, and makes sure that everyone is okay, and doesn’t feel threatened by anyone else’s powers. If anything, they’re all more excited and find ways to incorporate that as a strength since they work together.

“It wasn’t too long ago that I thought I was incapable of trusting anyone, but here we are, and I would trust the two of them with anything.”

Out of everyone, the character we know the least about is still Artemisia. But even she opens up a little in this book. Naturally, she does it in her own way, and only a little at a time, but it was so interesting to finally learn more about her. And of course, the people in their little circle accept her exactly as she is, no matter how much or how little she reveals to them, because her actions show that she’s got their back 100%.

“Artemisia is an enigma who has revealed herself to me on her terms, in slivers and shades and hints that have slowly come to form a hazily defined portrait of her. Maybe the image will never be entirely complete, but maybe it’s all the more beautiful for it.”

Blaise kind of fades into the background of this story. He’s the only one who seems to struggle with all of the events in the story, as well as the instability of his own gifts. As he becomes increasingly unstable, and Theo tries to offer her support to the best of her ability, he pulls away from everyone. He seems more and more self-destructive, and ultimately Theo is forced to choose between her own feelings for him and her need to protect the people under her care.

“His wanting to destroy himself is not something I can fix, but I can ensure he doesn’t drag the rest of us with him.”

And poor Søren! While he spent almost the entirety of the last book imprisoned in one form or another, he still gets a bad start in this book. Luckily, things improve for him, and I was so happy to see him play a bigger role in this story. It was tough to find myself questioning how trustworthy he really was at times, when I’ve seriously been team Søren all this time, but I was still pulling for a Theo-Søren pairing. It was intriguing to see how hard he worked to win over the people in Theo’s inner circle, especially when so many (read: all) of them were dead set against him from the start. 

There’s a queer romance that’s explored a little more in this story, and I loved seeing it. The characters involved both go through their own challenges, and watching them come together to support each other was one of my favorite scenes in the story. In addition, one of the characters comes out as asexual, and while I wasn’t surprised by the revelation at all, I was thrilled to see it discussed so openly in the story, especially by the character it came from. 

There’s a lot of action and surprises throughout the story. I was shocked at the number of plot twists, and while there were a few that I saw coming, there were so many more that blindsided me and took my breath away. In addition, the battle scenes were breathtaking, and more than a couple of scenes brought tears to my eyes. However, I felt a little let down by the end. For such a brutal, gory, and exciting series, the ending came across as a little too neat and meh and anticlimactic. But overall, this was a fun series, and I did enjoy it.

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: 25

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