Review: Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst


Goodreads summary:

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.

Review:

First of all, I want to say I was so excited to read this book. An f/f fantasy princess romance with a murder mystery? Sign me up immediately.

And the love story absolutely exceeded my expectations. This is the sweetest, bravest and most genuine love story I have read in a long time. Denna and Mare’s closeness and realisation of their love for one another is intertwined with talk of murder and magic and war with such wonderful precision. Their decisions about whether to follow their hearts or their duty to their kingdom holds everything in the balance.

So, a sequel?? Pretty, pretty please for a sequel!

I especially loved the absence of the kind of casual homophobia that’s almost always built into fantasy worlds as a matter of course, even if only so that the characters can fight against it. This is what the world should be. Where the reasons for opposition to same-sex relationships bear no difference from the reasons people would oppose any other relationship: inequality of rank, the necessity of political matches, or the fact that you’re betrothed to her brother…

However, I can’t give it a higher rating than I have because of the other prejudices that were built into the narrative and went unquestioned. Hilara is, as far as I could tell, the only character described as ‘dark-skinned’. She is maligned for her outspoken and antogonistic opinions, as well as her interest in fashion. She seems to be set up as the ‘obvious’ enemy in order to confuse the truth of the matter, but as it stands at the end of the novel she doesn’t appear to be an enemy of any significance. Denna and Mare’s distrust of her is unjustified, and the reasons they give for their distrust throughout the narrative, as mentioned above, feel uncomfortable. Given her isolation as the only explicit person of colour, and the lack of either of our protagonists acknowledging that they were wrong about her, the weight of their prejudice is unjustified as anything but prejudice.

There are also microaggressions against the religious leader (depicted as ‘flighty’ and ‘dreamy’), and one man demeaned as an aside because of his ‘thin, reedy voice and a bulging gut that pressed up against the stone table’. I loved this book, but I was not so much a fan of the prejudices that went unchallenged.


Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst was published in November 2016 by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins. 

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