ARC review: Kingdom of Ash and Soot by C.S. Johnson

Kingdom of Ash and Soot by C.S. Johnson
Series: The Order of the Crystal Daggers #1
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon  • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 3, 2018
Source: ARC from publisher

“I want to be free.” The words came rushing out of me before I could think through their implications and consequences.

“There are two things you need to know about yourself if you want to be free—what you stand for, and what you stand against.” Lady Penelope held up her hands, brandishing a pair of daggers that had been hidden in her skirts. “This world lives enslaved to its destruction, and so long as you are living, as long as you are fighting, you will be free.”

I gazed at the daggers, transfixed. Each blade was clothed in a leather scabbard, but the silver and obsidian of the daggers’ hilts winked at me, as though it was calling for me.

PRAGUE, 1870.

For the last ten years, nineteen-year-old Eleanora Svobodová has worked as a servant in her stepmother’s household. Along with her older brother, she dreams of the day they will be free to live life on their own terms.

But everything changes when their estranged grandmother comes to Prague on behalf of Queen Victoria. Throughout Bohemia, a string of murders and secret whispers hint at a larger coup. As the leader of the Order of the Crystal Daggers, an ancient order of spies and soldiers that protect kingdoms and their rulers, Lady Penelope is determined to mete out the perpetrators. Now, Eleanora must make the choice between a life of intrigue and saving the lives of others.

Can Eleanora find a way do the right thing and still find freedom?

First of all, I want to send a huge thank you to Laura at Prodigy Gold Books for reaching out with a review request. This was one of the first actual review requests that I ever got and I’m still excited all these months later. I so vividly remember where I was (my friend’s son’s third birthday party), what I was doing (eating a Lightning McQueen cupcake), and who I was with (every friend I have in the state of New Jersey) when that email came through. Mostly because I wondered who’d be trying to talk to me when all of my friends were in the same room as me. 🙂

Anyway, it took me awhile to finally pick this one up, but it actually worked out since I got to check off one of the boxes for my summer reading challenge! This is kind of a loose retelling of Cinderella involving spies and assassins, and while I thought I’d probably love it, I ended up… kind of liking it. More or less. Sort of?

Our heroine, Eleanora, and her brother, Ben, have been mistreated by their stepmother since the death of their father ten years ago. Grandma Penelope shows up out of nowhere as their savior, but she ends up being kind of creepy and I really disliked her character. She puts a huge focus on Eleanora’s desirability, which is kind of weird and it just rubbed me the wrong way. First of all, she wants Eleanora to “look the part,” so there’s this huge focus on her losing weight and buying fancy dresses and I really could’ve done without that. Grandma Penelope also kept fixating on how Eleanora needed to use her sexuality to get ahead and Eleanora was so clearly uncomfortable with it, but that was never really addressed. They also kept referencing The Ladies Guide to Excellence and Etiquette, which just made me think about The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, which I would much rather have been reading.

I couldn’t really get behind Ferdy as a love interest because he just seemed like he felt so entitled to Eleanora’s affection. They hardly know each other, but he thinks he has the right to get upset with her for dancing with another man? Reminds me of a terrible experience at a high school homecoming dance, but that’s a story for another day. There are some very nice kisses in this book, but altogether I think I could’ve done without the romance.

This wasn’t really the book for me, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be the book for you! Honestly, I wasn’t really in the mood for a historical assassin novel when I picked this book up, so part of the blame is with me. My rating is really somewhere around 2.5, but I think I’ll round it up to three stars.

Goodreads summer reading challenge: my, what big teeth you have