The queen you were meant to be
The land you were meant to save
The throne you were meant to claim
Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. Ten years later, Theo has learned to survive under the relentless abuse of the Kaiser and his court as the ridiculed Ash Princess.
When the Kaiser forces her to execute her last hope of rescue, Theo can’t ignore her feelings and memories any longer. She vows revenge, throwing herself into a plot for freedom with the help of a group of magically gifted and volatile rebels.
Forced to make impossible choices and unable to trust even those who are on her side, Theo will have to decide how far she’s willing to go to save her people and how much of herself she’s willing to sacrifice to become Queen.
Today is my stop on the Ash Princess UK blog tour and I’m here to explore the concept of the YA heroine and how the fantastic lead (and other female characters) of this brilliant novel takes the common tropes and turns them on their heads. The following contains broad references to the events in the narrative, but no specific spoilers.
Whether we like it or not, the stereotypical YA heroine is usually considered so because she is ‘different’ to all the other girls and willing to pick up a sword or wield her magic in violent and fantastical ways that manage to earn her the respect of the men in her narrative – and often manage to earn her our respect too. It is not uncommon for these female characters to have physical strengths and powers that make them stand out from other women to an almost unbelievable extent, their focus often being considered the equal of the men in the novel.
Here’s where Ash Princess and its female cast are different in refreshing and engaging ways. Is Theodosia a rebel? Yes. Is she a heroine? I think it’s important at this point to consider the difference between a character being malicious and them doing unpleasant things in terms of whether or not a reader is apt to consider them to be a hero. To be truly malicious, Theodosia would surely have to have no discernible conscience or negative reaction to the necessary steps that she takes in an effort to put her people on the path to freedom. And she does have a conscience. There are several points in the narrative where she could ensure that she and only she is safe, or where she could give in to escape her life of misery. But Theodosia has more pressing matters to attend to. She sees the bigger picture. She’s learnt and studied and considered her situation as she’s grown up at the feet of her oppressors and she uses the most important weapon at her disposal: her mind.
It’s clear that Theo has had to learn fast to survive, first analysing the behaviour of those around her and then creating the character of ‘Thora’, taking the name she’s been given to strip her of her identity and building a persona that supplies the right responses for the right person to enable her to survive, to the extent that she often feels that the Thora character has taken over. She manages to deceive a wide range of people with this act, tailoring her behaviour so that they don’t believe her to be truly capable of what she must do. To some, her actions may seem callous, particularly as regards Cress, who considers her her ‘heart’s sister’, but Theodosia has endured years of beatings and humiliation at the hands of people just like her. This is not to say that she never seems to regret her actions, for she does. She knows the difference between right and wrong, but also that some actions are born of necessity. Theodosia has more than her own feelings to consider; she has the survival of an entire people on her shoulders.
Theodosia’s power comes from her ability to manipulate others and make sacrifices in the hope of one day being able to help many more people than solely herself and those she knows personally and holds dear. Given how she reacts to some of her actions, it could easily be argued that she is not, at heart, a manipulative soul, but that her situation not only as rebel, but as rebel leader, demands it of her. Just because she doesn’t wield a physical weapon or use what magic she could to flatten her enemies, it doesn’t make her any less of a heroine. Hers is a more artful and subtle form of rebellion: one that stands to cost her much more than many other YA heroines suffer for their bold demonstrations of unstoppable power.
The rest of Ash Princess’s female cast all break the mould in similar fashions to Theodosia herself. I could write for several thousand words about the women in this novel, but I’ll try to contain myself to this paragraph. The majority of named female characters in Ash Princess carry out small acts of rebellion, some with far-reaching consequences. From the Kaiserin’s warnings to Theodosia, to young Cress’s misguided attempt to make her new friend look ready for battle, each of these women is a cleverly crafted blend of heart and intellect that makes them increasingly unique in the YA market. They are not driven solely by their feelings and they are not written to have ‘admired’ male characteristics in female form, but they are human and have learned how to live in a world where none of them has exactly what they would wish.
If you haven’t ordered yourself a copy of Ash Princess yet, I urge you to get your hands on a copy of this nuanced YA read as soon as possible. If you’re looking for a rebel (and a heroine) with a set of morals they’re willing to test, a sharp intellect and a heart of fire, Theodosia is the one whose story you’re going to want to watch out for over the next few years.
Ash Princess is released in the UK on the 14th June 2018, published by Pan Macmillan.