Ember Queen by Laura Sebastian

Ember Queen Cover

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia (Trade Paperback – 11 February 2020)

Series: Ash Princess – Book Three

Length: 465 pages

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

Young adult fantasy fiction author Laura Sebastian brings her debut series to a close in a big way with Ember Queen, the excellent and exciting conclusion to the Ash Princess trilogy.

Years ago, when the vicious Kalovaxians invaded the island of Astrea, they killed their queen, enslaved the Astrean people and stole their sacred magical gems. Princess Theodosia, heir the Astrean throne, was imprisoned and spent over 10 years as a captive of the Kalovaxian Kaiser, belittled by the mocking title of “Ash Princess”. However, this imprisonment didn’t break Theo; instead, with the help of her friends, she was able to escape to forge her own destiny. Now Theo has returned to Astrea, leading an army made up of freed Astreans, pirates, refugees and forces from the other nations the Kalovaxians have ruined. Hoping to free her people, Theo and her friends believe that they finally have the advantage over the Kalovaxians. However, the sins of Theo’s past have come back to haunt her.

Cress is a young Kalovaxian noblewoman who claimed Theo as her best friend during Theo’s imprisonment, despite being the daughter of the man who killed Theo’s mother. Theo chose to poison Cress and her father when she made her escape, and while she succeeded in killing Cress’s father, the magical poison she used had unexpected side effects on Cress. Despite being burned and mutilated, Cress survived, with the fire-imbued poison granting her powerful and deadly magical abilities. Using these to her advantage, Cress has done the unthinkable, killing the Kalovaxian Kaiser, poisoning Theo and claiming power over Astrea as the Kaiserin.

Barely surviving her own poisoning after a sojourn down into the magical Fire Mine, Theo must now find a way to free Astrea from her former best friend. With her own fire magic greatly increased, Theo plots to take the fight straight to the Kalovaxians. However, Cress has her own plans, and whole of Astrea may burn in order for her to get her revenge. Who will rise as the Ember Queen, and will the winner have anything left to rule?

Wow, talk about an impressive end to a great trilogy. Ember Queen is an amazing book from Laura Sebastian, who over the last couple of years has done an excellent job establishing herself as one of the best new young adult fantasy fiction authors. This is the third and final book in Sebastian’s debut Ash Princess trilogy, and this is definitely another superb addition to this fun series. I have been enjoying this trilogy since the beginning, reading Ash Princess in 2018 and Lady Smoke in 2019, both of which are pretty fantastic novels. Ember Queen turned out to be an excellent conclusion to this entire trilogy, and I had a great time reading it.

Sebastian has pulled together an excellent story for the final volume of the Ash Princess series, and I really liked the way in which she wrapped up the entire trilogy. After the first two novels dealt with the oppression of Astrea by the Kalovaxians, we finally get to see Theo’s big attempt to free her country from the invaders. I loved the way that Sebastian changed the theme of each novel, with the first novel relying on espionage, the second on diplomacy, and this third book on war. Sebastian produced a compelling narrative around this battle for the control of Astrea, and I really liked some of the directions that the story went into, especially when some intriguing new fantasy elements were introduced by the antagonist. Overall, I was really impressed with how Ember Queen turned out, especially as Sebastian used it to expertly conclude this awesome trilogy.

One of the main strengths of the Ash Princess trilogy has always been its great characters, who evolve throughout the course of the books. This is particularly true for Ember Queen, as Sebastian wraps up many of the character threads that have been introduced in the previous books, resulting in some excellent character devolvement as well as some satisfying conclusions for many character arcs. The main example of this is the series protagonist and point-of-view character, Princess Theodosia (Theo). Throughout the course of the first two books, Theo has grown substantially as a character, from a meek and seemingly broken prisoner to a cunning spy and manipulator, to a canny diplomat to finally an effective military commander. We finally get to see Theo take up the reins of leadership and responsibility that she has been somewhat apprehensive of in the previous books, as she starts making the hard decisions needed to ensure the freedom of her people. I really liked seeing all this character growth from the protagonist and I also appreciated the fact that Sebastian had Theo look back and own many of her prior mistakes and decisions that she regretted. Overall, I thought that Sebastian did an amazing job portraying Theo’s entire arc, and I think that she concluded her story in an impressive and enjoyable manner.

Sebastian has also produced some great conclusions to the arcs of the various side characters that were featured within this trilogy. For example, Soren has an intriguing story during Ember Queen, as he finds himself once again caught between the woman he loves and supports, Theo, and his people, the Kalovaxians. Like Theo does with the Astreans, Soren must come to a decision about his role as a leader of the Kalovaxians, and I think that his story and romance with Theo came together quite well. Blaise, Theo’s childhood friend and secondary love interest, also has an excellent arc within this book, finally getting some closure over his relationship with Theo, as well as the conclusion to his mine-madness arc. Several of the other supporting characters get some great advancement within this book as well. Artemisia, Erik and Heron all have their individual tales expanded on, and it’s great to see how comfortable and close they, Theo, Soren and Blaise have come together as a group. I particularly liked the way that Theo has gotten closer to Artemisia, her tough-as-nails cousin and bodyguard, and I had a good laugh at the way that Art allowed Theo a one-off session of girl talk as a way of calming her down before the final battle. New character Maile is an interesting addition to the series, and while she initially comes across as rather abrasive, she eventually becomes part of the group, resulting in a significant revelation for one of the characters.

The main thing that really made Ember Queen stand out to me was the complex relationship between the protagonist of the book, Theo, and the antagonist, Cress. This has always been a rather interesting relationship, as within the first book Theo and Cress were, in theory, best friends, referring to the other as their heart’s sister, even if Cress was actually rather controlling and manipulative. Theo eventually allowed Cress and her father to be poisoned at the end of the first book, and Cress now holds a heavy grudge against Theo for her betrayal. She has also evolved as a character since this first book, morphing into a much more confident woman who has taken control of her people in a way that is somewhat reminiscent of Theo’s growth as a leader. However, this is where some of the similarities end, as Cress is now a bit of a black mirror to Theo, as she is cruel, ruthless, determined to win whatever the cost and has no compunction about killing innocents. Despite all this, Theo is still drawn to her old friend, and the two of them have a compelling emotional bond (as well as an actual magical bond) throughout this novel. Theo feels guilty for the way that she betrayed and poisoned Cress, and she has a bit of a hard time seeing the evil person that she has become, and is more inclined to consider mercy than her friends would like. Cress, on the other hand, acts as ruthlessly as possible towards Theo and her friends, and is actually an extremely convincing antagonist for this book. Despite her actions, the reader gets to see that Cress is still deeply concerned with what Theo thinks about her and her plans, and there are still hints of a connection. However, her sense of betrayal, anger and determination to keep her newfound power always start to overwhelm any connection she feels to her old friend, and this leads to some devastating and heart-breaking confrontations. This whole dynamic between protagonist and antagonist is a really amazing part of Ember Queen, and adds significantly to the overall quality of the story.

I have always appreciated the magical system that Sebastian has featured in her Ash Princess books. This magic is elemental in nature, based around fire, earth, water or air (similar to the magic in Avatar: The Last Airbender, with a few key differences), and is exclusive to the Astreans, due to the presence of the magical mines located on their island. This magic has been a bit of an understated affair in the previous books, as the plots of those novels focused on espionage and diplomacy and required smaller, more subtle displays of magic. However, in Ember Queen, the Astreans are now at war, and so the magical gloves are off. This book is filled with a number of great examples of just how powerful or effective Astrean magic can be and it is a really cool addition to the series. Seeing the formerly enslaved or dispossessed Astreans unleash their power against their oppressors is a little cathartic, and it certainly makes for some great, if devastating, scenes. Sebastian also does some intriguing morphing of her magical system when it comes to Theo, Cress and some other characters, and this results in a rather interesting plot line that I liked.

Like the rest of the books in this series, Ember Queen is a rather good piece of young adult fiction. Sebastian has created an amazing story that features a group of young people growing as characters and sacrificing everything for freedom, friendship and justice. This a great book for younger readers, and while there is plenty of violence, war and fighting, there is nothing too graphic or over-the-top that makes it inappropriate for younger readers. I personally really appreciated Sebastian’s excellent portrayal of several LGBT+ characters within this book, especially as two of these characters had one of the best romantic relationships in the entire series. Despite being angled towards younger readers, Ember Queen is one of those books that can be enjoyed by a wider audience of people. There is definitely something for everyone in this book and it is really worth checking out.

Ember Queen by Laura Sebastian is a wonderful novel that not only contains a captivating story, but which also does an awesome job concluding the author’s debut trilogy. In this final book in the Ash Princess trilogy, Sebastian presents a desperate battle for freedom, complete with intriguing magical elements, excellent characters, complex interactions between the protagonist and antagonist and a fantastic story. All of this comes together in a first-rate read, which is a great conclusion to this series. I note that Sebastian has her next body of work already planned out, with the first book in her upcoming young adult fantasy series, Constellation of Chaos, set for release next year. This new book has an interesting plot synopsis out already and I am planning to grab this book when it comes out. Until then, Ember Queen is an excellent book from Sebastian and it is really worth seeing how this fantastic trilogy ends.

WWW Wednesday – 29 January 2020

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

Highfire, Russian Cover
Highfire by Eoin Colfer (Trade Paperback)

I have been powering through this amazing book and should hopefully knock it off tonight.

The Russian by Ben Coes (Audiobook)

I meant to read The Russian last year but didn’t get a chance, so when I felt like listening to a thriller this week, The Russian was on the top of my list.  I have been making a ton of progress with this audiobook so far and it has a really exciting story.

What did you recently finish reading?

Ember Queen, Dark Disciple
Ember Queen by Laura Sebastian (Trade Paperback)


Star Wars: Dark Disciple
by Christie Golden (Audiobook)

 

What do you think you’ll read next?

To the Strongest by Robert Fabbri (Trade Paperback)

To the Strongest Cover

I had initially planned to read The Museum of Desire by Jonathan Kellerman next, but I received a copy of To the Strongest today and now this is at the top of my to-read list.  I am really looking forward to checking this one out and I am expecting another excellent book from one of my favourite authors.

That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.

WWW Wednesday – 22 January 2020

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

Ember Queen, Dark Disciple
Ember Queen by Laura Sebastian (Trade Paperback)

Ember Queen is the final book in Sebastian’s Ash Princess series, which follows on from Ash Princess and Lady Smoke.  I am about a quarter of the way through this novel and so far it is a really good conclusion to this excellent debut trilogy.


Star Wars: Dark Disciple
by Christie Golden (Audiobook)

I was in the mood for another Star Wars audiobook and thought I would check out the intriguing sounding Dark Disciple.  This is another outstanding part of the expanded Star Wars canon and I am really glad that I decided to listen to it.  I should hopefully finish it off in the next couple of days and I will get a review up shortly after that.


What did you recently finish reading?

Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell (Trade Paperback)

Sword of Kings Cover

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold (Trade Paperback)

The Last Smile in Sunder City
Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker by Steve Parker (Audiobook)

Deathwatch Shadowbreaker Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?


Highfire
by Eoin Colfer (Trade Paperback)

Highfire Cover 3

I only just got this book and I am hoping to start reading it soon.  I better get a move on though, my editor/wife is already making moves to steal it for herself, especially after she recently reviewed Colfer’s last book, The Fowl Twins.


That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.

Book Haul – 20 January 2020

Welcome to my first Book Haul post of 2020, where I look at some of the cool books I have been lucky enough to receive in the last couple of weeks.  So far this year I have already picked up several great novels that I am really looking forward to read, and I will hopefully get reviews up for them soon.

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

The Last Smile in Sunder City

The first book in this post is The Last Smile in Sunder City by debuting Australian author Luke Arnold.  I have been looking forward to this book for a little while now and I actually just finished it a few hours ago.  It was really good and I am so glad that I received a copy of this book.

Into the Fire by Gregg Hurwitz

Into the Fire

Another book that I have been looking forward to for a bit, Into the Fire is the latest book in Hurwitz’s Orphan X series.  I really enjoyed the previous book in the series, Out of the Dark, last year and I am interested to see where Hurwitz takes the series next.

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray

The Last Day Cover

This is another interesting sounding debut that I am looking forward to trying out. The Last Day is an intriguing sounding thriller that is set in a future where the Earth has stopped turning.  This has all the ingredients for a pretty epic read and I am hoping to check it out soon.

Riptide by Kirsten Alexander

Riptides Cover

From Kirsten Alexander, the author of Half Moon Lake, one of my favourite debut novels of 2019, come this intriguing sounding new piece of Australian fiction.  It looks like Alexander has produced another compelling historical drama novel and I look forward to seeing how this one turns out.

Ember Queen by Laura Sebastian

Ember Queen Cover

The final book in Sebastian’s debut Ash Princess trilogy.  I really liked the first two books in this young adult fantasy series, Ash Princess and Lady Smoke, and I am quite excited to see how Sebastian concludes this amazing trilogy.

Well that is the end of my first Book Haul of 2020.  Not a bad start to the year in my opinion.  I am expecting some additional great books in the near future, so stay tuned to see what goodies I manage to pick up.