Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Book Review: Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

Of Fire and Stars
by Audrey Coulthurst

Source:  Subscription box (OwlCrate's "Epic" box, December 2016)

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance, LGBT

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.

Sadly, I did not enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. My best friend, Paige, and I decided to read this one together. I ended up finishing it a few weeks before her, but we did have a discussion to compare notes once she had finished it.

So, we got this book in last December's OwlCrate box. I had almost bought it for myself days before the box arrived, so this was one of the few OwlCrate picks that I actually knew about beforehand, that I was excited about/interested in. It intrigued me, of course, because of the princesses and magic, but it wasn't as well executed as I had hoped it would be, so I was a bit disappointed.

I liked the premise of the story: a princess with an Affinity, betrothed to the prince of a kingdom totally against magic, who ends up falling for the prince's sister. I mean... that's a pretty good plot! That has some real potential! But I just didn't like how that played out, and I didn't particularly care for the characters.
I probably shouldn't have (I like to try to formulate my own opinions before reading others), but I just read a bunch of Goodreads reviews on this book. The more I read, the more I agree, and the more I think I've been really generous with my 3 stars...
Please allow me to just paraphrase a few things other reviewers/bloggers have said that I completely agree with:
  1. The world-building sucked. There was information given, but I still didn't feel like I knew where I was. Granted, I have a hard time imagining well-developed worlds, so you can take that with a grain of salt.
  2. What's going on? We were kind of thrown into the middle of a conflict, without much history to understand why there was such animosity between Mynaria and their neighbours, why they hate magic so much, and by the way, do we know what happened to the Queen...?
  3. The story was flat and uninteresting. There's not much more to add to this.
  4. Enough with the horses! I am by no means a horsey girl, but I can appreciate a good horse story. Horses paid a strangely large role in this book, but it didn't feel right. By the end, I was just annoyed with all the horse talk.
  5. The names. I just... can't. If you must give your fantasy characters weird names, at least provide a pronunciation guide at the front of the book to help your readers out. The worst ones, for me, were Dennaleia (which I was just calling Daniella in my head) and Thandilimon/Thandi (which just sounds like a stupid lisping version of Sandy). I didn't have such a hard time with Amaranthine, except that the way I was pronouncing it in my head made her nickname of Mare seem awkward (although, it does make sense with the author & character's apparent obsession with horses).
  6.  The "adults." A lot of reviewers mentioned the "adults" of this world being clueless and obtuse, and it's true. There were several scenes with conversations revolving around politics which I really couldn't care less about. And, as one other reviewer pointed out, why is it that all of these Council members automatically assume that attacks are from this specific country, without investigating at all? Conveniently stupid.

I really couldn't tell if homosexuality was supposed to be  acceptable in this world, or not. I think that prevalence shouldn't be confused with acceptance. It was brought up a lot, mostly by Mare (who we understand to be bisexual), in the context of the liegemen's activities and her own trysts, yet it didn't seem to be acceptable, at least not for royals and noblemen. Denna's noblewoman friend's lover was not accepted by her family (I can't remember her name, but she was from a different country). Mare was the proverbial "black sheep," which I can't help but connect to her sexual orientation. Politics aside, the relationship between Denna and Mare felt forbidden. If homosexuality is so acceptable in this world, why would that be? While many other reviewers felt that this lesbian romance was the one redeeming element of this book, I would have to disagree. It's still the most interesting part, but I couldn't love their relationship. If you look at the overview of how things happened, it would appear to be a natural progression from dislike to friendship to more, but in the actual text and dialogue... It just felt kind of forced.
I didn't hate the story, and I wasn't exactly bored, but it definitely wasn't the most interesting book I have ever read. I wanted to like it. I had heard good reviews from other OwlCrate subscribers at the time we got the book. That, along with the fact that it had such potential and sounded so interesting makes it a real disappointment that it fell so flat. I think I will still hold firm to my 3 stars... for now.

My Goodreads Rating:

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