Princess Dennaleia of Havemont has always known three things:
- her marriage to the prince of Mynaria will bind their two kingdoms,
- she possesses the ability to manipulate fire, and
- this gift puts her in serious danger in her future home, where magic is 100-percent, nope, sorry, GTFO-of-our-kingdom-or-go-to-prison forbidden.
Despite the risk, Denna must adjust to her new life in Mynaria, hiding her growing magic to protect the alliance her parents worked so hard to arrange. But when a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling and ready to point fingers, Denna joins forces with Mare, the prince’s stubborn and prickly sister, to search for the culprit. But in their search they discover something neither expected to find within the other—a friendship that could possibly border on something more. Love’s never been known for being convenient, but with a murderer on the loose and war looming, will their spark find a way to fan itself into a flame?
For many, the premise alone would be enough to at least add Of Fire and Stars to one’s to-read list. A story about a princess falling in love, but with the prince’s sister? It’s a Disney movie we have yet to see, and I’m happy to report that in the heartwarming department, Of Fire and Stars excels. But I’m even happier to report that the book offers more than just sweet lady/lady kisses; it’s a solid novel—a story that’s much more than a “coming out” story—as well as promising start to a debut author’s career.
For a debut novel, the prose in Of Fire and Stars is wonderful, its narration smooth, close to the characters, and deceptively simple, making it easy to slip into. Denna and Mare’s voices are distinct, yet intertwine to create a complete and balanced story. Audrey Coulthurst’s writing has personality, and not only that, it’s funny. Between the horse puns (Mare is good with horses) and party banter, it’s hard not to fall in love with the book itself.
Denna and Mare are about as opposite as you can get: Denna is a book nerd, somewhat quiet and well-behaved, while Mare is rowdy and determined to avoid most of the responsibilities that come with being a princess. Their relationship follows a classic “opposites eventually attract” pattern, and it develops nicely over the course of the entire novel as the two work together to solve the murder that threatens their kingdoms.
The story has a level of self-awareness that’s subtle but obvious to anyone looking for it. It’s direct in what it wants to accomplish: a fluffy romance between two girls—an outcome rarely seen or even touched upon in YA fantasy. Denna’s wit and Mare’s temper make their banter entertaining and endearing. They earn their happy ending fair and square. And the kisses? Oh, the kisses. Satisfying and swoon-worthy. The other characters are memorable enough to stand out but are not terribly complex, but with as much fun as I was having reading about Mare and Denna, I didn’t care.
For a fantasy novel, the world building was not what I’d call dark chocolate rich, which some readers may find off-putting. But with the narration’s focus on the characters’ blossoming relationship, I found it easy to forgive. Like their relationship, the world Denna and Mare inhabit is built gradually. As the princesses investigate the crime, the reader comes to understand the significance of the murder and its implications—especially for those with magic. Not to give too much away, but the politics of magic are key to the mystery behind the assassination. Though the story comes to a solid but somewhat open-ended conclusion, enough blocks are built to easily lead the story into a sequel—something I for one, hope we get.
Of Fire and Stars is an important addition to the LGBT+ young adult fantasy canon.Of Fire and Stars is an important addition to the LGBT+ young adult fantasy canon. The book offers something that that even now, very few YA LGBT+ books do: a fantasy adventure where falling in love with the same sex isn’t a spectacle, and despite the drama Denna and Mare’s love causes, there’s a happy ending. Most of the supporting characters don’t really care that Denna falls in love with another woman—they care that falling in love with Mare means breaking the betrothal agreement her parents arranged.
It might be a familiar story to some, but that is exactly why it’s important. If you read this book and can say “Meh, I’ve seen it all before,” then frankly, Of Fire and Stars isn’t for you. Because the LGBT+ community hasn’t seen it before, at least from one of the mainstream publishers.
To be quite honest, I struggled to write this review. Not because I didn’t know what to say, but because I had too much to say. The book achieved exactly what I’d hoped it would achieve and my appreciation for its existence (almost) defies words. The number of F/F YA sci-fi and fantasy novels with happy endings can basically be counted on one hand. And even though I know I can’t speak for everyone, I think I can safely say that there is a desperate craving to see the same, “I’ve seen it before” happy stories with classic tropes, but with characters the LGBT+ community can identify with. Of Fire and Stars was certainly not a perfect novel (no novel ever is)—but in the ways it counts, I think it was.
Fans of Tamora Pierce, Leigh Bardugo, and Malinda Lo: do yourself a favorite and pick up this book. Your heart will be glad you did.
5 out of 5 Stars
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