Saturday, March 25, 2017

Book Review: Of Fire and Stars, or The One With Princess Kisses

Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst
Pages: 389
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: November 22nd, 2016
Cover Comments: This is a beautiful cover. I love the golden, looping font, and the two girls on the cover, holding hands and standing against the world. The only thing I'm kinda meh about is the bow and arrow - archery isn't really a part of the book, so I feel like that was just added because bow & arrow is popular right now.

First Lines: When I was seven years of age, my mother caught me in the hearth stacking red-hot coals with my bare hands.

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.


"An Affinity, much like a heart, cannot be changed."

Of Fire and Stars is the quintessential fantasy romance with a twist: the princess doesn't fall in love with the prince, but with the princess. I was really excited to read this book because of this intriguing concept, and I did enjoy it. However, I was a bit disappointed in other aspects of the book, and without this little twist, I think the book would have been rather unremarkable.

Positive firsts: 

1) The romance is pretty adorable. Mare and Denna don't get off the the best start, and without having read the synopsis of the book, I might not have known they would become interested in each other romantically. Mare is forced by her family to give Denna horseriding lessons, and the first part of their relationship is strained by this obligation, and Mare and Denna's personality differences. However, Audrey Coulthurst did a great job with the slow burn type of romance. Slight touches, words, and eye contact build up until the romance just blossoms. I also liked that, despite, the medieval setting, homophobia didn't seem to be an issue in the world Audrey created. Other lesbian and gay couples are introduced in the book, and nothing is made of it. I liked that the only real barrier to Denna and Mare's romance was the betrothal of Denna to the prince, rather than societal judgements.

2) I really enjoyed Audrey Coulthurst's writing - it's very atmospheric, and there were some lovely passages, ie "Partnerships can be built, but love can't be coaxed. Love should feel like the first time you gallop a horse flat out. It should make your blood sing. It should terrify you. And some part of you should recognize it the first time you meet the other person's eyes." I'm excited to read Audrey's next few books and see how her writing develops, and what other kinds of stories she'll tackle. There were some pretty boring parts of the book that were carried through more easily because of Coulthurst's writing.

3) The magic system in Of Fire and Stars is nothing too new - it's based on the elements, like wind, fire, earth, etc. (a side note - elemental magic seems to be making a comeback, like in Frostblood and Ever the Hunted, two other recent releases). I did really like how religion ties in with magic in a unique way.

Now, for the not-so-positives

1) As other reviewers have commented, the names in this book are a little ridiculous. If Amaranthine and Dennaleia aren't enough of a mouthful for you, try Thandilimon. The first few chapters of the book were spent on stumbling over these names in my head. I happen to adore fantasy names, but it needs to be clear how to pronounce them. I feel like the author just threw in super long names to add to the fantasy/medieval feel. Also, Mare. Loves horses. Really?

2) The pacing was a bit slow, but tons of exciting things happened near the end. It was sort of like a Nancy Drew book without those clutch cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. There was lots of information-gathering and meeting and talking, but not much happened either plot or romance-wise, until the end.

3) I predicted the villain since their first scene. Maybe I've just read too many books, but I thought it was very obvious.

All in all, Of Fire and Stars was an interesting read for the unique romance/setting. That twist helps it rise above the overall meh-ness of the plot, and Coulthurst's writing kept me intrigued. I'd recommend for anyone looking for a unique romance and is not too bothered by typical fantasy fare.


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