A year ago, when I read A Wicked Thing, I commented that I liked how Aurora was a more contemplative, introspective heroine. While her inaction bothered some readers, it made me identify with her more strongly. In Kingdom of Ashes she’s had some time to adjust and time to become more assertive, but at times her rash actions cause harm to herself and others. Where A Wicked Thing was the story of Aurora adjusting to a new world where she was, not the heir to the throne, but a pawn, Kingdom of Ashes is the story of her learning that it’s okay to want things, and it’s okay to fight for them, but it’s not okay to forget others or to lose touch with whom she is. While harnessing her magic and overthrowing King John might save her people, she must also ensure she is a kind and compassionate ruler. Celestine, of all people, calls her out on her increasing selfishness near the end of the book:
I am not threatening you […] And yet you want to burn me away, because you are so convinced that you are good. – p. 322
One of the things I love about this duology is the way Aurora’s romantic life is treated. While romance is not the focus, it’s an inevitable part of a story about a girl awoken from a coma by the kiss of her ‘true love’. Thomas deconstructs the idea of true love throughout these books, starting with Rodric in A Wicked Thing; just because he’s a good person doesn’t mean Aurora should marry him. Similarly, there’s Tristan, who’s also a subversion of the ‘girls like rebels’ trope; as Aurora realises in Kingdom of Ashes, she fell for Tristan because of whom she wanted him to be, not whom he was. Finally, in Kingdom of Ashes we see her growing relationship with Finnegan. He encourages Aurora in her quest to save her kingdom, but also to learn what it is that she wants from life, yet words like ‘love’ are not bandied about. One of my favourite passages in the book is an exchange between Aurora and her friend, Nettle, in which Aurora says she wants to kiss Finnegan, and Nettle’s response essentially boils down to, ‘So kiss him.’ It’s clear that Aurora has a very all-or-nothing perception of romantic relationships, as though kissing Finnegan is tantamount to a proposal of marriage, rather than simply an expression of deep semi-platonic affection and physical attraction.
The relationship I would have liked to have seen more of is that between Finnegan’s sister Erin and Aurora; their few interactions suggest they have the capacity to be friends, but they simply don’t cross paths that often and Erin is a fairly minor character. However, I did appreciate that their ineractions with each other trend towards solidarity rather than antagonism; as a princess, Erin understands how Aurora feels trapped by the weight of expectations but also that princesses (and princes) must sometimes bow to convention for the good of their people. Erin asks Aurora about her engagement to Rodric, as there have been discussions of Erin and Rodric marrying and she wants to know what he is like. She is quite perceptive about Aurora’s reasons for leaving Rodric behind, quite eloquently summarising the way that princesses must sacrifice for their people, but that it isn’t fair that they should be made to suffer for politics:
I think there is a difference between making a diplomatic alliance you’ve expected your whole life, and waking up in a future to find out that your throne is no longer yours and you are expected to marry the new heir. – p.177
My one disappointment is that this appears to be a duology. It’s not that Kingdom of Ashes isn’t a satisfying conclusion – it is – but I still want more. This is a world and characters I could lose myself for days in, and two books just aren’t enough for me. I’ll leave you with my favourite quote from the book, the one that epitomises not just the duology itself, but the way its themes, like those of so many good fantasy stories, transcend the world of the story and reflect the reader’s experience:
What is more fearsome and unnatural than a woman who does not do what she is told? – pp. 348-349
Nicola is an English lit grad who loves fairytale retellings and introspective heroines. You can find her on Twitter.