Lady Smoke, by Laura Sebastian, is the sequel to Sebastian’s wonderful Ash Princess. In Ash Princess, Theodosia, the princess of the conquered Astrea, schemes and plays a game in her former court in order to retake her kingdom from the conquering Kalovaxians.
Lady Smoke picks up where the last book ended, with Theodosia making her escape from Astrea with her crew at her side. Her Shadows – Blaise, Artemisia, and Heron – are with her aboard a ship captained by the elusive pirate Dragonsbane, who is none other than Theo’s aunt. Soren, the Kalovaxian prince, is in their custody. Theo must now develop a plan that might involve a political marriage and will definitely involve plenty of sacrifice so she can save the kingdom she was meant to rule.
This book was one of the best sequels I’ve ever read. I really enjoyed Ash Princess and was excited to pick up Lady Smoke (though the title was as ephemeral as smoke to me – I kept forgetting it). The novel did not disappoint. Sebastian moves the story along in a logical and exciting way, keeping the adventure going while adding new elements to the world. The book felt like the second half of a movie, taking the story further and doing the unexpected. We learn more about other countries during a section of the book that reminded me of The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (don’t pretend you haven’t seen it), and Sebastian adds more mythology and intrigue to the magic surrounding the gemstones and the blessings from the gods.
I really appreciated the characters in this novel. Sebastian expands on the backgrounds and personalities of the characters we’ve come to love, and at times it’s very moving. A certain character who was drastically altered by the events of the first novel returns in a terrifying and surprising way, and let me tell you, the twist near the end is very satisfying.
Sebastian, thankfully, also doesn’t draw out the romance, although she has created an odd love triangle that is barely addressed. Neither of the men cares about Theo’s affections for the other? Neither is upset with her for her unwillingness to address the situation? I would be, but I’m also very okay with the romance being put aside for the action.
And action there is! The book is a little over 500 pages, and Sebastian keeps a breakneck pace throughout it. I really appreciate that Lady Smoke (and Ash Princess before it) doesn’t shy away from violence or war. Theo is trying to regain a country that’s been conquered. She’s going to see and do some brutal things, and the reader is going to have to face them along with her. It may not be a cheery book, but the hope that Theo brings to her people is brought to the reader too. When the novel ends, you know that Theo will get what she wants more than anything else: her kingdom back and her people free. Ultimately, nothing else matters to her, which is a refreshing change from some other young adult novels.
If you liked Ash Princess, you will love Lady Smoke, and if you’re a fan of novels like Red Queen, Graceling, or Throne of Glass, this is your next series.