Kingdom of Ashes – Rhiannon Thomas

Kingdom of Ashes. Rhiannon Thomas.  HarperTeen, 2016
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Sequel of A Wicked Thing. Rhiannon Thomas. HarperTeen, 2015.
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If you like your Sleeping Beauty stories with dragons then this is apparently the adaptation of Sleeping Beauty for you!

I read Thomas’ debut novel A Wicked Thing last year and I was very impressed with her work. Her series is a “what happens after” story of Sleeping Beauty and I’m glad to see more of these popping up than just straightforward retellings as they tend to prioritize plot in a different way, sometimes occasionally at the expense of character consistency. I thought that Thomas did a good job in the first book capturing both character and plot. While her Aurora wasn’t someone I totally liked, the choice of naivety was fitting for the story that she set up, and as in the first book, I thought the course of events played out well in terms of her learning via betrayal the cost of trust and naivety.  I found the first book sometimes slow-moving, something I would also say about the second book as well. In many ways the pacing seems to be more about character development through moments of interaction between Aurora and Prince Finnegan. There are some elements in these scenes that remind me of certain kinds of fanfic writing but that’s a digression for another review or an article.

This is again not to say that there isn’t plot here  – for a piece of story now clearly at minimum a trilogy –  a whole lot does happen in what is at its base a middle book about training and learning magic as well as I suppose some sort of self-discovery, but more on that in a moment.  It’s here that if you’ve ever felt the Sleeping Beauty story  just doesn’t have enough  dragons in it, then you know this is the version for you. The dragons are at least intricately connected to the magic of the world Thomas has created and they are a destructive force but also a seductive power.  The dragons are set up as connected to the curse that was placed on Aurora – with more details now revealed than in the first book and the lure of learning still more.  There were so many interesting world building ideas and hints at a history that Thomas provided about this new country of Prince Finnegan’s and the dragon’s waste.  On the whole it felt a bit of a shame how quickly the dragon story was played out.

What was interesting about this plot twist, if you can call it that, is that while there were hints of it in the first book, that book felt much more like the beginnings of a series about political machinations, whereas now the books have shifted into definite fantasy epic.  Or maybe there’s just too much Game of Thrones influence going on.  I was left with the feeling that all the fantasy tropes of the last decade where being thrown in a pot, though Thomas does leave open the possibilities that these tropes she is manipulating for her ends.  It sometimes feels well pulled off and sometimes feels jarring and out of place.  The politics of the previous novel are still sort of present throughout, but they’re not really addressed again until the end.  It is again odd pacing.  The end feels rushed, as though this book was meant to build to this culmination, but it clearly isn’t the end, or even the important bit. There’s obviously going to be another book, it is already announced.  It’s hard to fully describe the end and avoid spoiling but there are so many side issues and plots, which seem important but are sometimes treated his distractions to get through.

But back to the characters and character development, which in many ways was the driving force of the first book.  Here it was filled with those obvious tropes of YA fantasy writing. Prince Finnegan is the appealing bad boy with a Heart of Gold character. It also hearkens back to the idea of a bit too much fanfic background. The use of both sexual pressure, all while waiting for consent is straight out of a romance novel of this decade. While I appreciate the emphasis on consent between him and Aurora, there’s something about the cocky, “well you will succumb because I am so right for you” that remains a bit discomforting. Even if at the same time I can appreciate the trope in a guilty pleasure kind of way.  It does, however, give me some concern because of the unreasonable expectations it can set.  Aurora in this book seemed less clear as a character than she had been in the previous volume. There is obviously the change and development of the first book and a substantial chunk of time in this book, but overall she continued to feel scattered and not totally clearly defined.   Learning to control powerful magic of course would change a person, but while the meek princess periodically does keep reappearing  she has moved toward over confidence and bravery.  Some of this was certainly present previously. Perhaps some of what I found unclear is that, much like the pacing, I wasn’t always sure what the rhyme or reason was that was the overall driving force in what was happening or which Princess Aurora was around.  I know that in many ways this was an effort on Thomas’ part to create a round character, but in the end the execution just continually feels a little bit forced.   

I did like this as I read it, though not as much as I enjoyed the first volume.  There is definitely a lot of originality and creativity.  There are some interesting things that I think Thomas is attempting as far as manipulating a whole range of genre tropes, and
I look forward to seeing where she does take the story. 24574656

Cover art – The font is nice. The Aurora character is…fine? I’m not entirely clear what this cover is meant to be with the lady in red on the stairs. I guess it is better than the draped white gowned fainting princess of the first volume. Also…come on….no dragons???

Plot –  4/5 Character -3/5 Thought 5/5 Diction 2/5 Music 3/5 Spectacle 2/5

Overall 3/5


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