REVIEW: Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst
3.5, maybe 4 stars
This is the story of princess Denna, betrothed since she was a child to a prince from her neighbouring country, to seal an alliance. A country that wants nothing to do with magic and those who have the gift for it. What this country doesn't know, however, is that their soon to be princess has a gift herself; an Affinity for fire. Against a background of political plays and court intrigue, Denna must find her way in this new country, reel in her growing magic, and definitely not fall in love with her betrothed’s sister Mare.
I liked this. It's a relatively normal fantasy story. It has intriguing elements, political play, an assassination, unexpected friendships, magic and a love powerful enough to make the stars fall from the sky.
It didn't really bring anything new to the genre, with exception for the girl/girl love, which I'll get to later. I also understand some points of criticism I've heard.
There was hardly any world building. You're dropped into a story without much explanation, and even as it progresses, you're kinda left on your own. The characters are relatively one-dimensional and have little development. For some reason, (almost) every adult in this book was stupid and had no sense of critical or logic thinking.
So yes, it could have been better. But it was still good.
Maybe the book was meant to have more focus on the romance, or maybe that was just the part that stood out for me. It was a slow build, dislike to love relationship. I absolutely loved the fact that this is just another YA/fantasy book, and yet the princess falls in love with a girl.
As the author said, she wrote the book she wished to read in her youth, and I'm happy it exists now.
It was great that this was not some coming out story. It was not a big deal the love interest was a girl, it's just the love interest. Props as well for having a character that has been with both a boy and a girl without batting an eye. It's also nice that there are more queer characters than just the MC's. That way it doesn't feel like the queerness is added just for 'special effect' and it also doesn't seem like they are the only ones and thus exceptional.
Also great: sex exists (also between girls, yeah, I know, mind blowing) and is neither ignored nor blatantly pushed in your face.
To address one of the main issues most people have with the book: I don’t think the "forbidden" romance is stupid. Sure, it is not as forbidden as some, and same sex relationships don't really seem frowned upon in this book. Yet, the princess is meant TO MARRY MARE'S BROTHER. idk about you, but that seems like a decent reason to try to dissuade yourself from being in love. This is also the first time Denna has ever fallen in love, so I find those reasons enough to justify the time it takes them to accept the love they have for each other.
I thought parts of this showed strengths of the book, rather than weaknesses. The forbidden romance was not because of gender, which is great. And the time it takes for them to admit it adds to the slow build and gives the friendship opportunity to grow.
Some random thoughts:
The mystery part was not exceptionally difficult, but then again, it is also not a mystery book
In my head, Mare was pronounced the way you would say the name if you were Dutch (kind of like Mara). I hadn't even realised it could also be the name we give to female horses until they said it in the book itself. I'm sorry for all those whose mother tongue is English, my version was much less ridiculous.
I was never really the girl who loved horses, but if you do, this book is right up your alley.
Mare didn't read as an 18 year old to me. I don't have any specific feelings towards that, but it was my experience none the less.
I didn’t really know if this was supposed to stand on its own or be the start of a series, but if the latter, I will read the next book as well.
It is not especially thought provoking, but I’m happy that in the sea of fantasy books, there is queer and #ownvoices representation. It was good, and for me there was more than enough to redeem its lesser parts, especially taken in mind that this is a debut novel.