Lady Smoke (Ash Princess, #2)
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.
Astrean queens do not typically marry, but Dragonsbane has organized an event for Theo to choose a spouse. This would be to acquire their military aid in retaking Astrea from the Kalovaxians, but Theo is not so naive as to believe there is not also something big in it for Dragonsbane. Theo will need to figure out motives, allies/enemies, and plot for ways to retake her kingdom from the foreign land where they are now staying.
What I loved: Sebastian really has a gift with pacing. The plot moves quickly and smoothly throughout the book, capturing and keeping the reader's attention. This book takes place less in Theo's head (though there is still a lot of important things happening there), as we meet royalty from other kingdoms and expand the world we met in the first book. There is much more political intrigue, mind games, and dangerous relationships in this second book. Romance really takes a backseat, and I really enjoyed it.
There are also some interesting discussions about war, the people who fight in them, political motives, the concept of virginity, and interpersonal relationships. It all makes for a truly fascinating novel. While this is the middle book in the trilogy, there's nothing middling about this, and it is a really great novel in its own right (certainly not just a space filler between books).
Final verdict: Atmospheric, engaging, and beautifully crafted, LADY SMOKE is a wonderful continuation of this dark YA fantasy series. Expect plenty of political intrigue, mystery, and war/rebellion-related violence. While not for the faint of heart, this series is highly addictive with fully developed characters and lots of twists and turns.