My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Thank you, Penguin Random House, for giving me a finished copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
My mother was the Queen of Peace. But I am not that sort of Queen.
This sequel to Ash Princess was worth the wait. I’ve always loved political fantasies since they typically have enough intrigue to keep the pages flipping. With that in mind, Lady Smoke gave me the reading experience that I expected. Even though I didn’t completely recall everything that happened in the first book, I didn’t have a hard time getting back into Theo’s dysfunctional world.
The plot was probably one of the reasons for the latter phenomenon since it was somewhat reminiscent of The Selection, one of my favorite YA series. After Theo escaped from the clutches of the evil Kaiser and took refuge in Sta’ Crivera, she desperately needed an army to back her up. Unfortunately, the only way to reach that goal was to marry a foreign royal, who would then claim a part of her beloved kingdom. Theo was unwilling to sacrifice her agency to any of her not-so-benevolent suitors, but she had no choice but to entertain their proposals. After all, the fate of Astrea was at stake. When Theo finally selects her future husband, something terrible happens, and she fears that it’s the Kaiser’s fault.
Although the romantic/political drama was very familiar, I was too engaged to feel bored or jaded. Theo and her friends were always on edge, especially around the king of Sta’ Crivera. Their alliance was shaky, so he could sell them out to the Kaiser if he thought that helping them was becoming inconvenient. Moreover, there was a malevolent force in the palace. If Theo didn’t manage to find it, she would have to give up on procuring a powerful husband. I loved the irony of her situation. She had outsmarted the Kaiser only to face a similarly cunning enemy.
Theo matured a lot in this book. By visiting one of the camps of her fellow refugees, she realized that there were people who had bigger problems than her. She also discovered the fatal flaw of her supposedly perfect mother. I liked that instead of feeling discouraged, she heeded the call of leadership; she strove to be strong and wise enough to give hope to those who had resigned themselves to poverty and suffering. In light her tenacity, it was no wonder that she had the affections of Blaise and Prince Soren.
Compared to Theo, the two male leads were not that inspiring. Blaise had a suicidal streak or Messianic complex, while Soren had overrated daddy issues (and he was often a “lad in distress”). Also, the love triangle that they had with Theo bordered on emotional cheating. Still, I appreciated how they never failed to lift Theo’s spirit through sincere words of affirmation. Without them, she would’ve succumbed to her bouts of self-doubt and pessimism.
Dragonsbane, Theo’s aunt, was the most complex character. I had some assumptions about her from the very beginning, and most of them turned out to be wrong. For a pirate, she sometimes had a striking sense of honor. Well, it was probably because her daughter (Artemisia) was Theo’s close friend. Haha. Anyway, I’ll try not to be judgmental toward fictional characters.
With all that said, Lady Smoke was an utterly engaging combination of fantasy and politics. The fast pace made the book seem like it had less than 492 pages. I guess it would have been perfect without the overrated love triangle.