Of Fire & Stars by Audrey Coulthurst
PUBLISHER: Balzer + Bray
PUBLICATION DATE: February 2018
RATING: ☆ ☆ .5
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 kingdoms.
But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a land where magic is forbidden.
Now Denna has to learn the ways of her new kingdom while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses before her coronation—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine, 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 work together, they discover there is more to one another than they thought—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.
I don’t know if I’m disappointed more in myself or this book. It’s probably a little bit of both – I do not read enough LGBTQ+ novels with f/f relationships, especially not enough where said relationship is the main romance of a story. So when I picked up Of Fire & Stars, I felt myself walking into The Good Place. I was gonna read a high fantasy with a F/F romance between the two protagonists. This is what I want to read. I’ve wanted this since I was young (not that I knew about my sexuality back then but I reckon it would have made things a lot quicker and realer for me), but what I got was the feeling that reading was a chore.
Sometimes, us LGBTQ+ folk don’t want something spectacular. I love a story that’s a little cliche, a little formulaic, but with LGBTQ+ characters instead of straight ones. But I don’t want to be bored, ya know? This novel was so boring that I struggled to just get through it that I didn’t even bloody finish it!
Let’s first start with Mare. She’s actually called Amaranthine which is a standard high fantasy name and I’m not bothered by it. She’s obsessed with horses and so of course, her nickname is Mare…AS IN HORSE. WHY? Who does that? And what was worse was that sometimes they called the actual horses mares instead of horses. I HATE THIS SO MUCH. I ended up just calling her ‘Mara’ as it’s part of her actual name and ‘Mare’ just hurt every time I thought about it.
I didn’t really like the dialogue either. The sentences ran on too long and I couldn’t imagine that characters talking like that; not pausing for breath. Or even the other character listening allowing them to talk for so long. They’re having a conversation, it’s not an interview.
There are a lot of contradictions regarding the world building. Not just contradictions, but undeveloped aspects too. While I can’t remember much about it (or even bothered to retain the information) one big thing bothered me; and it was the social norms and practices. Throughout the novel, we are given small cues about sexuality and gender roles. Sexual fluidity is commonplace, and gender seems to matter much less than it does in our society; men and women are treated practically the same, women are not destined to be wives and mothers, and many hold positions as advisers, leaders in the army, and so on. But, despite that, men and women still have strict dress codes, and when Mare wears trousers and tunics, she’s considered a disgrace. Why? If gender is irrelevant, why is clothing gendered? Denna is forced into marriage with Mare’s brother, why? That’s a part of culture that’s rooted in misogyny and the belief of women as property, so if gender doesn’t matter, why is this happening? I shouldn’t really be bothered, but if I had to pick a qualm, then that would be it I guess.
After that, the plot was forgetful. I think it was something to do with hunting people who possessed magic? I ended up just scanning over these passages just to reach the romantic scenes between Mare (ugh) and Denna. Again, it’s a run of the mill plot which is sometimes what you want, but this plot is definitely something that was thought up after the author decided “Hey, we need more F/F high fantasy!” which is so noticeable. If this novel didn’t have an F/F relationship at it’s centre, I wouldn’t have even bothered. Reading this with a M/F relationship would have been straight up torture, so I guess there’s that. So, thank you for writing an F/F relationship (and it being #ownvoices too) but I’m done with this one. Time to move on to much better books.