Of Fire and Stars
Balzer & Bray
November 22 2016
“Wait, a YA fantasy where the Princess falls for the dashing and charming OTHER PRINCESS?”
“Sign me up!”
That’s how I, and I assume, many other readers felt when hearing about debut author Audrey Coulthurt’s Of Fire and Stars.
All her life Dennaleia has been raised to be the perfect wife and ruling companion to the crown prince. She’s learned state craft and etiquette and to keep her magic ability to manipulate fire a secret as she’s going to a kingdom where magic is not allowed. It’s her lot in life to be a good wife and ruler and she’s accepted it. But when she gets to the horse-breeding kingdom and is forced to learn to ride, she falls for her betrothed sister, Amaranthine, instead. With assassinations and the threat of war looming Denna and Amaranthine, called Mare, must learn how to fight for the truth and what they really want: each other.
There’s a lot to like in this book. The book works well as a stand alone – a rare find in the world of YA fantasy — but at the same time, I do wish for more adventures of Denna and Mare. I thought that the world building, though not extremely deep, kept me engaged the whole time. My advanced copy didn’t include a map but I definitely wanted one and hope the published version includes one. I wanted to know more about Mynaria and the surrounding kingdoms! Coulthurst leaves the possibility of a sequel open but again, it could work just as well as a solo book.
I appreciated what Coulthurst did with the religious aspects of the different kingdoms’ and their relationship to magic or “Affinities.” She was able to present the way that the unexplained and unknown, in the form of a group of magic users called Syncretic Circle, can be viewed with suspicion and fear by those don’t understand it. Isn’t it sad how frequently that happens in our real world? In this case, as in many others throughout the book, Denna represents a thoughtful rationalism that more people in the kingdom of Mynaria should have. Seriously, the girl is smart and level-headed; she’s trained her whole life to be a competent ruler. The foppish prince and the too trusting king could certainly take some clues from her.
Some may see it as a little dull but I found that the slow burn of the political situation, as well as the blossoming romance of Denna and Mare, to be very satisfying. It was also great to have queer relationships and sex positivity celebrated in the book. Their glances are longing and I was really rooting for them. Denna and Mare’s relationship is scandalous but only because Denna is engaged to the prince, not because they are two women. Other same sex and queer relationships are mentioned and Mare and her friend Nils celebrate each other’s relationships in a fun and refreshing way.
My few quibbles were that the names are completely stereotypical fantasy gobbelygook. Thandilimon, Amaranthine, Dennaleia? I’m surprised that none of them had the apostrophes or random Xs thrown in like a crappy sword and sorcery paperback. Amaranthine loves horses so she shortens her name to Mare? It was just a little too cute for me. It’s also terribly frustrating how inept the rest of the characters in the book are. Denna is so smart! More people should listen to her.
This book is not going to win any awards for being the most complex or nuanced but it’s a solid work. The writing is descriptive and lovely, and the story is great. There’s a good mix of action, romance, and politics. Plus the fact that the Denna and Mare basically ride off into the sunset together is a huge plus for readers looking for some queer positivity in their YA fantasy.