Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst
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Series: No, but there will totally be a sneaky sequel
Release date: November 24th, 2016
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Length: 400 pages
Source: print ARC from BEA16/e-ARC via Edelweiss
Rating: Of Fire and 2/5 Stars
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 before her coronation—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine (called Mare), 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 work together, each discovers there’s more to the other than she thought. Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. 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.
Oh god, I finally finished.
First off: it absolutely kills me that I didn't love this. I wanted to love this soooooo badlyyyyy, and I could have. The elements were there, the writing was solid, and with a bit more depth, I could have cared about the characters. The concept was everything. QUEER FANTASY. F/F FANTASY. PRINCESSES IN LOVE.
These princesses in love deserved a way better plot.
After the first 30 or so pages, I found my interest flagging as the plot sort of ground along in a very run of the mill, generic fantasy-esque direction. But it had princesses whose personalities clashed in a very intriguing way, and even though the worldbuilding was distressingly thin, I was like BUT PRINCESSES. I can get on board this ship. Steady on, Gillian! But somewhere around the 100 page mark, Of Fire and Stars became an active chore to read. It took me SO BLOODY LONG to finish this book, because I would get bored and frustrated and disappointed every three pages and put it down and dream about the book this could and should have been.
*teensy break to sobbily grieve the f/f high fantasy the world deserves*
--Princesses in love! Horsey stuffs! (I am not a horsey person but I appreciate people who are. It was the only interesting thing about Mynaria)
|unapologetically stealing this gif idea from Morgan's review|
I'm just going to sprinkle adorable Disney princesses in love throughout this review for REASONS
--I would like to procreate with that cover and have its swirly fonty babies
--The writing is decent in a way that makes me want to read what this author writes next. It's just this PARTICULAR story that was a dud for me.
--highlight for spoiler: on the page sexytimes.
--One or two characters that with a certain bit of development I could have loved. Denna and Mare were close to being people that felt really REAL, particularly in the first half of the book. Their voices were distinct, and while they could have been fleshed out more, I still felt like I knew them. But as the plot grew more forced and frustrating, a disconnect happened between me and the girls. Especially as their romance jumped from tentative straight to THE SUN RISES AND SETS ON YOUR BEAUTY, MY TRUEST HEART, MY STAR, MY SONG AND SOUL 5EVA AND BEYOND. I did ship them. I did like them. But I wanted to be absolutely SMASHINGLY IN LOVE with them, and I wasn't.
Nils and Thandiliililiililimon or whatever the bloody hell his name was had immense potential as well (Thandi was mega annoying but the only capital F Feel I got in the second half of the book (highlight for spoiler apart from the almost-feel I got from Nils' death) had to do with him) but it remained mostly potential. And, alas, the only character with two functioning brain cells to rub together is killed in the first thirty pages of the book, knocking the collective IQ level of Mynaria as a nation down to about negative three. Which leads me to...
The bang-my-head-on-the-wall bits:
--Everyone is an absolute blasted idiot. OH MY GOD. INVESTIGATE THE MURDER YOU DAFT PRICKS. HOW HAS THIS NATION NOT SLID INTO THE SEA WHEN IT'S CLEARLY BEING GOVERNED BY PAPER DOLLS AND SENTIENT BITS OF LINT. Remind me never to get murdered in Mynaria because everyone will just be like "well, it was PROBABLY them" and carry on. ALSO MAYBE IF YOU GATHER ALL THE ROYALS IN ONE ROOM MAYBE YOU SHOULD HAVE SOME GUARDS IN THAT ROOM JUST A SUGGESTION
--the plot is...well. It's there, occasionally doing things? The girls sort of investigate a murder? Denna reads some books and tries not to light things on fire? Mare is ANGRY and sneaks out and very conveniently overhears Things?? Thandi is stubborn and stupid when the plot remembers him? Suspicious Bad Guy is RIDICULOUSLY SUSPICIOUS COME ON YOU STUPID BITS OF LINT. All of the action is muffled by the setting of the castle, like it's being suffocated.
The mystery of the assassin is dropped liked a hot potato, which is a blessing and a curse because the mystery is so blindingly dumb. A third of the plot was people debating the style of a knife. My absolute favorite bit of nonsense is when Mare has this huge breakthrough that--GASP--could magic be involved?! You mean the arrow that was glowing white and then mysteriously dissolved into ash with no explanation? Surely not!
Honestly. Mynaria is going to just slide into the sea.
Oh, and Denna's genius moment of thinking WAIT! Ropes! Ropes are a thing that make climbing towers in the dead of night much easier!
Honestly, the twelve people in charge of the great nation/braintrust of Mynaria simply sit around and have very compelling, believable political debates like:
"Wait," Captain Ryka spoke, crossing her arms. "I'm still not comfortable with attacking the southern part of the country when the seat of power is in the north. It doesn't make sense to me."
No. No, it quite spectacularly does not.
--the aforementioned thin worldbuilding. The world has no feel, no texture, no culture. What does the castle LOOK like? The city? The geography? The climate? How do people dress? What is their CULTURE? Why do these nations hate each other? People swearing to the Six Gods does not a religion make. Of Fire and Stars manages to be both overly simplistic and really confusing. I cannot for the life of me explain the Recusant/heretic/magic/blah di blah thing. Why do the nations hate magic? Who knows? They just do. The political intrigue is mildly ridiculous and incredibly frustrating. The middle of this book positively plods along, and then the last thirty pages are ridiculously rushed. But honestly, by then I was skimming.
--that star thing made no sense at all. Seriously, wtf.
The elements were there, and I can even pick and choose certain things in the plot that, if focused on, could make a great novel (Zumorda is wildly wasted potential, I liked Denna and Mare's emotional beats and Thandi's arc, even if it is hugely diluted, oh and Nils could be super cute) but as is, it just didn't coalesce for me.
This review is hugely ranty, and it's not because I hated it, but because I was so disappointed. I had stratospherically high hopes for this one, which might not have been fair, but I'm disappointed nonetheless. Though I'd read the sequel, because the way it ended had real promise.