Author: Audrey Coulthurst
Fiction > Young Adult > Fantasy
Fiction > Young Adult > Romance > LGBTQA+
Published/Publisher: November 22nd 2016 by Balzer + Bray
Format Read In: Audiobook
Summary from Goodreads
Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile lands. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.
Now, Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine—called Mare—the sister of her betrothed.
When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two become closer, Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. And soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.
But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.
I’m not a huge fan of the cover; I like the pretty font but the paper puppets make it feel cluttered. I can’t quite remember where I found out about this book or if someone had recommended it to me, but it was in my TBR.
Plot and Writing
The story follows two main leads. Princess Dennaleia (Denna) has arrived in Mynaria to meet the prince who is her betrothed, while struggling to hide her magical affinity for fire in a country that severely oppresses magic users. Princess Amaranthine (Mare), the sister of Denna’s betrothed and the princess of Mynaria, is an unorthodox royal who would rather tend horses and roam around the city than gossip with nobles and discuss trivial matters. The two come together when Denna begins taking horse-riding lessons with Mare, sparking a friendship that ignites into love. Meanwhile, political moves have been made to antagonize the magic users in Mynaria and the land of Zumorda, setting of terrorist attacks by a group of magic users. When one attack leads to the death of Mare’s beloved uncle, she begins investigating alongside Denna, who has her personal reasons for trying to quel the demonization of magic users, as her own magic is beginning to morph and grow too strong for her to control.
I’ve seen other reviewers talk about how slow the plot is and how it took a backseat to the horse-riding lessons, but I would disagree with that. I believe the pacing was understandably somewhat slow, although not too slow that it was slogging on, as both characters were in positions were they needed to work up to caring enough to risk a lot to investigate the matter. Plus, the horse-riding did not take up nearly as much page time as reviewers have stated. I liked the story personally as there was a good balance of political play and raised stakes, though overall at a very simple level; don’t expect GoT levels of political intrigue here. Still, I like that kind of trope in my fantasy. The writing itself was also pretty simple, and not too flowery. Thankfully, it wasn’t bogged down by catchy one-liners, but I would have liked a bit more advanced language. But since I consumed this in an audiobook format, the simpler language was better suited.
Denna and Mare of the opposites attract kind of romance. Denna is very much a princess–polite, well-mannered, well-tempered. Mare is the rough and tumble counter-part–rude, temperamental, unbothered. When Denna spends the majority of the beginning trying to get Mare to like her, Mare tries to ignore her, convinced that she is just an air-headed noble. Its only when Denna steps out of her role as a queen-to-be and showcases her intelligence and fierceness that Mare gets to see the truth underneath the training and finds respect and admiration for Denna. As she warms up to her, Denna begins to see the loyalty and kindness Mare tries to hide behind a wall of gruffness–a bad attitude that convinced her brother and father that she was a useless piece in their puzzle. Of course, this bits Mare in the butt later on in a way that is both frustrating and understandable.
Strangely, I preferred seeing Denna’s side of the story more than Mare’s which is usually the opposite. I tend to like the rougher characters rather than the daintier ones but Denna had levels to her arc, from her struggles in understanding and possibly getting rid of her powers to her struggles to be heard as a serious political advisor to her struggles being so far from home and all of her support systems. I found Mare at the beginning to be a little too mean with Denna, less sympathetic to her position and quick to judge. But I’m happy to say that their romance is not insta-love and develops genuinely as everything falls apart around them.
Besides them, there is Prince Thandi, Denna’s betrothed and Mare’s brother–making the romance more “forbidden” besides the WLW aspect. I found Casmiel‘s character to be very flip-floppy: on one hand, he’s respectful of Denna and actually hopes that their political marriage will become one of true love but on the other hand, he does not take her advice or respect that she may be smarter than he thinks. He lack of love towards his sisters tipped me more towards disliking him than liking him, but I still felt sorry for the guy a little. The king acted the same way as his son but with even less positive points. Then there is Mare’s best friend (can’t remember his name), a guard and former lover, who is more loyal than I would expect from someone trained to serve the royal family first. I liked him as a person and wish we got to know more about him; he was mostly used as a guide so Mare wouldn’t be lost in the city.
Besides all of them, there was some unimportant characters like members of the council who all seemed to be hiding stuff from each other, even in the wake of tragedy and major clashes between fundamentalists who hate magic users and the magic users trying to survive their oppression; there was guards who act like dumb jocks and were as unmemorable as they were unlikable; there were noblewomen trying to drag Denna into their circle of useless gossip, one of whom Denna actually befriends and who’s backstory will likely become more relevant in the sequel. Overall, the cast is not very strong and there was not a particularly vibrant side character.
Trying to discover the real villain of the story was the more boring part of the plot, ironically. I basically did not trust anyone, knowing the violence committed had to be an inside job. I didn’t even really believe the uncle was dead. Everyone was acting pretty suspicious, so when the villain was revealed, I wasn’t surprised and the plot moved so fast after the reveal that I was like ‘um…okay’. Basically, the villain was definitely the weakest part and that’s a shame for someone like me who likes a good villain.
I tried to stay as positive as I could in my review in general but there were a few things that will probably keep me from picking up the prequel or sequel. The ending was so improbable and the explanations on the magic system were too vague that I stopped caring about how it all works. The reason for the oppression of magic users was also not very clear to me; it just seemed like a random addition. Despite saying the plot moves at an understandable pace, I ended up finding myself attracted to the other stories I was reading at the same time as Of Fire and Stars which is not a good sign for the rest of the series. Its only a duology so maybe in the future, I’ll find sometime between other stories to look at the others, but for now, I do not intend to continue.
My Rating: 3/5