‘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.’
Theodosia is my favourite protagonist in a long time, and it isn’t solely because she breaks the mould for what a YA female lead is all too often presented as, but because she is wonderfully human. She is a girl who tries to do the best she can with very few options available to her, while all the while she has ‘advice’ being offered to her from multiple sources, none of which she can absolutely trust – and I include her own counsel in those that she is fully aware she cannot rely upon completely to be objective. She is not perfect and all-powerful; she is intelligent and scarred and brave enough to do what she perceives must be done, even if it means further weight on her conscience and more reasons for her to doubt whether she is a good person. Theodosia does not wield swords and endless magic without consequence – in-fact, no-one in Lady Smoke does. And that’s something that makes the book so readable. The characters are human and hurting and they make mistakes because they are not above giving in to the darker spectrum of emotion, and I feel it must be remembered that the vast majority, if not all, of the characters the readers spends the most time with in Lady Smoke, have led lives that have not given them the opportunity to be happy or innocent or unguarded in their interactions with others. Theodosia has grown up in a world that wanted to demean and destroy her in any way it could, and the events of Lady Smoke do not forget that, the impact of abuse at the hands of her oppressors handled sensitively and not cast aside for the sake of the bigger picture.
One of the things I loved about this book was the acknowledgement that there are a good many different cultures and peoples involved and working together (or not) and it means that not every character is going to understand another’s point of view, even if they’re on the same side. They don’t always speak the same language – literally – and that is something that seems sidestepped an awful lot in fantasy/YA books in general. It was refreshing to see communication difficulties and characters struggling and wanting to learn about other cultures, from language to beliefs, and there being moments of disconnect where they simply cannot understand what is going on around them. All too often, characters in fantasy novels meet and immediately understand everything and anything about each other and can communicate flawlessly, despite being from backgrounds and kingdoms that are presently as vastly different. That it’s said more than once that a variety of characters don’t want to speak Kalovaxian because it’s the language that has been used to help strip them of their identity and humanity is something that just got me every time. There is so much more than the main narrative to unpack in Lady Smoke and I really do feel that it should be applauded for its presentation of the impact of war and conflict and oppression. Exploration of morals, ethics, politics and cultures are some of my favourite things to read in YA fiction and something that Lady Smoke does well, leaving action sequences for when they are necessary and not gratuitously inserted for the purpose of blood spilling.
Needless to say, I greatly enjoyed Lady Smoke (I finished it within 24 hours of picking it up) and look forward to reading the last instalment of the trilogy.
I received an e-ARC of Lady Smoke from Netgalley and the publisher.