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.
Praise for the Ash Princess Series:
"A darkly enchanting page-turner you won't be able to put down."--Bustle
"A smart, feminist twist on a traditional tale of a fallen heroine, with plenty of court intrigue, love, and lies to sweeten the deal. Good luck putting this one down." --Virginia Boecker, author of The Witch Hunter series
"This searing page-turner is a compelling examination of the complexities of both evil and resistance."--Sarah Porter, author of Vassa in the Night
"A dark and spellbinding epic." --Sara Holland, New York Times bestselling author of Everless
"A rebel queen fans the sparks of revolution...[and] Theo's first-person narration remains enthralling with emotional immediacy...[while] packed to the brim with intrigue and the promise."-Kirkus Reviews
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The spiced coffee is sweet on my tongue, made with a generous dollop of honey. The way Crescentia always orders it.
We sit on the pavilion like we have a thousand times before, steaming porcelain mugs cradled in our hands to ward off the chill in the evening air. For a moment, it feels just like every time before, a comfortable silence hanging in the dark air around us. I’ve missed talking to her, but I’ve missed this, too--how we could sit together and not feel the need to fill the silence with meaningless small talk.
But that’s silly. How can I miss Cress when she’s sitting right in front of me?
She laughs like she can read my mind and sets her cup down on its saucer with a clatter that rattles my bones. She leans across the gilded table to take hold of my free hand in both of hers.
“Oh, Thora,” she says, her voice lilting over my false name like a melody. “I missed you, too. But next time, I won’t.”
Before her words can make sense to me, the lighting overhead shifts, the sun growing brighter and brighter until she’s fully illuminated, every awful inch of her. Her charred, flaking neck, burned black by the Encatrio I had her served, her hair white and brittle, her lips gray as the ersatz crown I used to wear.
Fear and guilt overwhelm me as the pieces fall into place in my mind. I remember what I did to her; I remember why I did it. I remember her face on the other side of the bars of my cell, full of rage as she told me she would cheer for my death. I remember the bars being scalding hot where she’d touched them.
I try to pull my hand away but she holds it fast, her storybook-princess smile sharpening into fangs tipped with ash and blood. Her skin burns hot against mine, hotter even than Blaise’s. It is fire itself against my skin, and I try to scream, but no sound comes out. I stop feeling my hand altogether and I’m relieved for a second before I look down and see that it has turned to ash, crumbled to dust in Cress’s grip. The fire works its way up my arm and down the other, spreading across my chest, my torso, my legs, and my feet. My head catches last, and the final thing I see is Cress with her monster’s smile.
“There. Isn’t that better? Now no one will mistake you for a queen.”
My skin is drenched when I wake up, cotton sheets tangled around my legs and damp with sweat. My stomach churns, threatening to spill, though I’m not sure I’ve eaten anything to spill, apart from a few crusts of bread last night. I sit up in bed, placing a hand on my stomach to steady it and blinking to help my eyes adjust to the dark.
It takes a moment to realize that I am not in my own bed, not in my own room, not in the palace at all. The space is smaller, the bed little more than a narrow cot with a thin mattress and threadbare sheets and a quilt. My stomach pitches to the side, rolling in a way that makes me nauseous before I realize it isn’t my stomach at all--the room itself is rocking from side to side. My stomach is only echoing the motion.
The events of the last two days filter back to me. The dungeon, the Kaiser’s trial, Elpis dying at my feet. I remember Søren rescuing me only to be imprisoned himself. As quickly as that thought comes to me, I push it away. There are a good many things I have to feel guilty about--taking Søren hostage cannot be one of them.
I’m on the Smoke, I remember, heading toward the Anglamar ruins to begin to reclaim Astrea. I am in my cabin, safe and alone, while Søren is being kept in chains in the brig.
I close my eyes and drop my head into my hands, but as soon as I do, Cress’s face swims through my mind, all rosy cheeks and dimples and wide gray eyes, just as she looked the first time I met her. My heart lurches in my chest at the thought of the girl she was, the girl I was, who latched on to her because she was my only salvation in the nightmare of my life. Too quickly, that image of Cress is replaced with her as I last saw her, with hate in her cold gray eyes and the skin of her throat charred and flaking.
She shouldn’t have survived the poison. If I hadn’t seen her with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe it. Part of me is relieved that she did, though the other part will never forget how she looked at me when she promised to raze Astrea to the ground, how she said she would ask the Kaiser if she could keep my head after he executed me.
I flop down on my back, hitting the thin pillow with a thud. My whole body aches with exhaustion, but my mind is a whirl of activity that shows no sign of quieting. Still, I close my eyes tight and try to banish all thoughts of Cress, though she lingers on the edges, a ghost of a presence.
The room is too quiet--so quiet it takes on a sound all its own. I hear it in the absence of my Shadows’ breaths, their infinitesimal movements as they fidget, their whispers to one another. It is a deafening sort of silence. I turn onto one side, then the other. I shiver and pull the quilt tighter around me; I feel the fire of Cress’s touch again and kick the quilt off entirely, so that it falls in a heap onto the floor.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book was a phenomenal second installment of the trilogy. I sometimes feel as though second books (or middle books, if it’s a longer series) can sometimes get a little bit dull as the series diverges towards its true plot, but this was definitely not the case for this book. Lady Smoke follows Theo and her band of outcasts as they flee away from the Kaiser but into another albeit different political mousetrap. Theo wants to raise an army to overtake the Kalovaxians and reclaim her home country of Astrea. But there aren’t enough Astreans to get the job done, and so Theo is now faced with the predicament of selling her hand in marriage (something Astrean Queens do not do) to the highest bidder for an army strong enough to take on the Kalovaxians. This book was rife with political tensions and manipulations. It was very satisfying to watch Theo use the skills she’d picked up under the Kaiser’s reign to hold her own against the greed and selfishness of the leaders of other countries. It was frustrating to read about these powerful countries who have plenty of soldiers, but refuse to help Theo take back her home unless they can get something out of it. It’s such a sad parallel to the world today, where if a course of action isn’t lucrative, nobody will bother with it. Theo underwent some drastic character growth in the last book, and in this book we get to see more of her strong personality of Queen shine though. She struggles with her title at times though, as she’s stuck between wanting what’s best for Astrea and wanting to keep her friends and loved ones safe. I appreciated this; it shows that she’s still human, and a sixteen-year-old one at that who can be a little selfish and immature because she’s never had to rule before. Theo’s evolving relationship with her inner circle was a delight to watch, especially as Blaise, Heron, and Art try to work amicably with Soren, who they still perceive as the enemy. I really enjoyed Theo’s struggles to reconcile her method of leadership with worrying she’s acting too much like the Kaiser. But as Soren reassured her at one point, the fact that she’s worrying that she’s becoming the Kaiser means that she won’t ever sink to his level of evil and cruelty. One of my favorite parts of this book were the times when Theo stood up to the patriarchy. While Astrea is a monarchy ruled by a queen, many other countries have male-dominated rulers who are very misogynistic. Theo lets them know exactly how ridiculous their views and double standards are. It was amusing and empowering to read about. That’s one of the best things about this series: there are so many strong female characters. Not only that, there is representation for PoC and LGBT+. It’s refreshing to read, especially when the Kalovaxians are primarily the only white people. The ending of this book was simply fantastic. I binged the last 100 or so pages all in one shot because I just couldn’t put it down. It left me breathless and satisfied but yearning for the third and final book of this fantastic series.
I loved this book! It started exactly where Ash Princess ended. The characters discussed some things that happened as a refresher of the last book. It was easy to get right back into the story. This story explored some of the other countries in the world. Theo and her group have to get some help gathering armies to invade Astrea. I loved seeing how different these other countries were from the Kalovaxians. Theo is a great character. She grows a lot in this story. She was so sheltered that she doesn’t understand a lot of things in the world, but she doesn’t show her lack of knowledge. She is still able to control her people and grow as a queen. The ending of this book was so thrilling! I can’t wait to see what happens next! I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Strong, dynamic characters make a wonderful fantasy! Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the opportunity to read and review Lady Smoke by Laura Sebastian! Theo is on Smoke, Dragonbane’s ship, with her Shadows and Soren. They are all working towards gathering allies to get her palace and reign back. Dynamic, strong characters plus the world building make Lady Smoke interesting to read and the uncertainty of Theo’s future drew me into the story even more. The characters’ backgrounds are intense and built fascinating characters that keep growing and stay steadfast by Theo’s side. Amazing strength and loyalty create unparalleled love for the kingdom they are all trying to get back. As the story carries on, more atrocities are brought to light and make the group even more determined! I don’t want to spoil anything but I’m thoroughly enjoying this series and anxiously awaiting the third book! 5 stars for great world building and strong, dynamic characters! * I received a complimentary copy of this book for voluntary review consideration and all opinions and thoughts are my own.
Very often the middle book of a trilogy is slower than the first, but this one did not disappoint in any way. Theo is growing and maturing and making hard decisions. I have to say I did not see that ending coming but it makes me just that much more anxious to read the next book. I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.