Book Review: Kingdom of Ash and Soot

Kingdom of Ash and Soot (The Order of the Crystal Daggers, #1)Title: Kingdom of Ash and Soot

Series: The Order of the Crystal Daggers #1

Author: CS Johnson

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult, Retelling

Rating: 3/5


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?

With a fun blend of historical fiction, true love, castle intrigue, and family dysfunction, The Order of the Crystal Daggers is the latest adventure series from C. S. Johnson.

My Review:

Kingdom of Ash and Soot is the perfect blend of historical fiction, fantasy and a unique Cinderella retelling. I had some mixed feelings when reading this book, but overall I enjoyed it and am curious to read the next book in the series to see how Eleanora’s story continues.

The book starts off with the main character, Eleanora (Nora) and her brother Benedict (Ben) at their father’s funeral and jumps to years later and their lives with their stepmother. Eleanora and Benedict have been turned into servants in their own house, serving their cruel and ill tempered stepmother and step siblings. I really enjoyed Nora and Ben’s close sibling relationship. The regime they lived under brought them close together and though they sometimes bickered and bantered, you could always sense the love they had for each other. Though I loved Nora and Ben’s relationship, I wish there had been slightly more focus on Ben. I felt he was sometimes just there to support Nora and her story rather than being given a story of his own – he had so much potential as a main character!

As the book continues on, something that bothered me was the events of the book felt rushed, but the story as a whole felt very slow until about 3/4 of the way in. The way the events occur felt dizzying and too fast to occur in real life, from the arrival of Nora and Ben’s grandmother, to the romance Nora develops with a young man named Ferdy. But what I disliked the most was the fact that Nora is often kept in the shadows and pushed aside. She is often presented as nothing more than a distraction to go about society. Though she joins a secret society, she is barely trained or told anything.

One of the things I did like was the diverse casts of characters from all different backgrounds and interests, which made the book a lot more interesting to me. One of my favorite characters was Clavan, a bar owner with a passion for books. He was witty, wise and empathetic and was a character I wish Nora had interacted with more. I always appreciate a fictional character with a zeal for books, so seeing Clavan and Nora bond over them made the little bookworm in my heart wiggle with joy.

The story starts to pick up as Nora starts to discover the truth of the people around her. She spirals as she realizes everyone lies, and everyone is hiding something. Her life is a lie in itself and she struggles desperately to cope as the world she knew comes crashing down on her. Not only that, but she craves freedom as desperately as a drowning person craves air, and she feels trapped between two cages and wonders why she can’t seem to break free.

The entire book was definitely an exploration of freedom and the different meanings and forms it can take and what people are willing to do to achieve it. I felt Nora’s frustration and empathized with it greatly – she wanted to do more, to be more, to have a purpose and know the truth of things, and more than anything she wanted the freedom to be herself. I felt like this was such a powerful part of the book and its part of what kept me hooked.

The book finally really gathered speed and captured more of my interest when Nora takes the situation into her own hands and starts trying to solve the city’s murders and gain her independence. By the end of the book she even sees a little action and gets to fully participate in a mission. I predicted some of the ending and was pleased to find I was correct, but there was one twist I didn’t see and the ending left me curious to see what would come of Nora next!

Overall, though there were some things I didn’t love about Kingdom of Ash and Soot, it was still a fairly enjoyable read, with lots of hints at future mysteries to come. I liked the uniqueness of the Cinderella retelling and thought the story had a lot of potential. There was a lot of deeper intentions and messages involved with the story which I enormously appreciated, and am curious to see the direction the author takes the rest of the story. I give this story 3/5 stars.

Have you read Kingdom of Ash and Soot? Do you have any favorite retellings?

Good Hunting!


Disclaimer: This post does contain affiliate links, but no worry if you use them as it will be at no extra cost to you! 


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