Outside the window, a strange midday fog rolled in. The outline of Prague and its proud castle had become more mysterious and ethereal, and I wondered if it was really real, too. Before, everything about the city had a celestial touch to it, as if I could walk down a street and suddenly find myself in Heaven. In that moment, I could not say that; paradise was suddenly full of poison, and I had to wonder what parts of my life it had touched. I entered the room, confronted with the terrible sadness of this reality. I flopped onto my bed, burying myself into the cover, letting my eyes well over with tears. It was only then that I allowed myself to admit the deepest part of my pain. “Mama,” I whispered into the silken sheets. “I miss you.” While I missed her because I loved her, I missed her more for the questions I had, the ones I knew could never be fully answered.
– Kingdom of Ash and Soot by C. S, Johnson
Kingdom of Ash and Soot by C.S. Johnson
Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. In no way did this affect my review or my rating of the novel.
Kingdom of Ash and Soot is a historical fiction novel about an aristocratic young woman in Bohemia named Eleanora who, after years of suffering under her stepmother’s cruelty, finds her life transformed by her mysterious grandmother’s sudden arrival. However, her life is no more her own than it was before – instead, Eleanora is sucked into her grandmother’s own plots.
I absolutely loved the setting in Kingdom of Ash and Soot. It takes place in Prague in 1870, and the main character is from a wealthy family where she is treated poorly, so she has an unusual opportunity to move somewhat freely through social classes, giving the reader the chance to see a whole world from top to bottom. The differences between Eleanora’s wealthy relatives (especially her grandmother), and Eleanora’s friends (especially the servants she lived with prior to her Grandmother’s arrival) are quite pronounced, and definitely interesting to compare.
The character development, unfortunately, was a little weak in some places. Eleanora didn’t have as much self-motivation as I wanted her to – she spent far too much time for my taste feeling bad about her circumstances. Her brother Ben, who has a physical disability, is certainly sympathetic but still seemed rather distant throughout the novel, and I didn’t feel like Eleanora’s grandmother ever got her moment in the sun. This is just the first book in a series, though, so there will probably be more character development as the series progresses.
The plot took awhile to find itself – things were always fast-moving, but the author tried so hard to keep secret the mysteries of the book that for awhile, I was not sure who I was supposed to be rooting for, and what a good ending for the main character would look like. That being said, about a third of the way through the book, this was worked out, and it settled into a good, compelling mystery that definitely held my attention through the end. I turned out to be more of a historical spy novel, which was not at all what I had expected, but it worked well for this setting and these characters.
In all, I will give Kingdom of Ash and Soot a 7 out of 10. It was interesting for a historical novel, and had a good, strong plot, so this is a good one for mystery readers. It’s not a great choice though for readers who want a strong connection to the characters, and it’s an unusual pairing of genres which might not appeal to some.