Well, A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas gave me both last year and I loved every page of it. Of course I’d hunt down a copy of the sequel! (aka I got one from my lovely friend Dahlia and then ended up with a second copy from YA Books Central.) The more plot-driven, discovering-the-truth nature of Kingdom of Ashes will do a great deal for readers who weren’t fans of the character-driven first book. Plus there are dragons.
The first time around, Aurora was a very passive character as she tried to operate within her role of Prophesied Princess and chafed in it, ultimately leading to the royal disaster of a wedding that was the climax of A Wicked Thing. Now Aurora leads the way in almost every respect. She actively seeks out rebel Tristan when she hears he’s in the city, pursues her magical abilities herself, and generally comes into her own fully. Romance is on the backburner now; possibilities with Tristan and Rodric all but eliminated, she develops a tame slow-burn relationship with Finnegan.
Kingdom of Ashes is feminist fantasy with equal emphasis on both parts. You get your dragons (yes, dragons, and Aurora gets along with them very well) and political intrigue, but you also get a strongly written heroine in Aurora, whose strength is far more mental than physical. She’s not the princess who will take up a sword and charge into battle herself; she’s the strategist. There’s also the fun metaphor of Aurora and her magic giving her the ability to burn everything down and start over again in a kingdom of ashes. (Ba-dum tsss.) Is “burn it down and try again” not the frustrated feminist’s mantra? Aurora is our kindred spirit!
I want to go into the novel’s themes of powerful women and what the world makes of them as well as the nature of magic, but it spoils so many things to even attempt to. One theme I can go into: who lives, who dies, who tells your stoooooooory. Fellow fans of Hamilton rejoice because that is a central theme as Aurora digs deeper into the story ascribed to her as she slept like the dead in addition to the stories she thought she knew about others.
Admittedly, Kingdom of Ashes is a mild step down from A Wicked Thing in terms of quality. One of the book’s largest twists is very predictable, and Finnegan’s feelings for Aurora are swept aside by both Aurora and the narrative. A woman isn’t required to consider another man’s feelings for her, but he makes them so clear that it would have been nice to see the two have a healthy conversation in order to keep love from getting in the way while they’re essentially planning a war against Aurora’s kingdom and the man who stole her throne. Their future as a couple is bright at the end of the novel and yet I am still left wanting.
This is the feminist YA fantasy you’ve been looking for and you won’t have to worry for a second about a Superpatriarchy ruining your fun. I love these books so much that I went out of my way to purchase them at my local bookstore! In case you’re interested, Freeform/ABC Family is also developing a television series based on these books too! The working title After is underwhelming, but if it makes it to air, I’m so there. SO THERE. The Wicked Thing duology comes Paige-approved and I hope you’ll check it out.
*Aurora is much more active this time around
*digs deeper into the story ascribed to Aurora as she slept
*more plot/mystery-driven than character-driven