BOOK REPORT for Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

Cover Story: (Mostly) Montell Jordan
BFF Charm: Yay and Eventually
Swoonworthy Scale:
Talky Talk: She Said, She Said
Bonus Factors:
 World Building, Super Powers
Ambivalent Factor: Horses
Relationship Status: Infatuation

Cover Story: (Mostly) Montell Jordan

At first glance, this cover is a total win: the fancy flourish, the paper art-esque illustration, and the representation of a same-sex romance. Howevs, some details don't quite match with what's in the story: Mare (left) should be noticeably taller than Denna, and she's not all Katniss about archery. Minor nits to pick, though, since the cover does look gorgeous. Montell approves!

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The Deal:

All her life, Princess Dennaleia has been preparing to marry a prince whom she's never met of a kingdom that she's never been. Denna's also had to keep her ability to conjure fire on the DL—a particularly critical secret now more than ever, with her arrival in her new homeland of Mynaria where magic is expressly forbidden.

But that's not Denna's only concern; she has to learn how to ride a Mynarian warhorse for her upcoming nuptials, and her instructor is the equally intimidating sister of her betrothed, Princess Amaranthine (or Mare, for short). And when an assassination disturbs the already precarious peace throughout the land, Denna and Mare must team up to prevent the country from engaging in an all-out war. As the two princesses get to know each other better, an unlikely friendship forms – and maybe even more? 

BFF Charm: Yay and Eventually

With her lifetime of training (minus horseback lessons, strong sense of duty, and deep desire to help others, Denna is kind of terrific at being royalty. But it's her brainy and bookish side that makes me want to befriend her, since I never could resist a heroine who's just at ease navigating a calculation as she would be a library. 

Look, even as an aficionado of all things punny, a girl who loves horses and goes by Mare is a little much. (To be fair, Mare acknowledges this herself, too.) As is her constantly telling people not to use her full name, to the extent that it could be its own mini drinking game. I came around on Mare not necessarily because she changed from her prickly self, but by virtue of there being more to her to get to know – esp. while in the presence of her best friend Nils, a dashing liegeman deserving of his own BFF charm. 

Swoonworthy Scale: 9

Despite the similarities of a young princess being married off to a monarch of a horse-oriented society, Denna and Prince Thandilimon are unlikely to develop into an epic romance à la Khaleesi and Khal Drogo. In fact, they're, like, comically awkward together.

Denna and Mare, on the other hand, are FIRE EMOJI. Slowly but surely, their interactions culminate into an overwhelming case of JUST ADMIT YOU LOVE EACH OTHER ALREADY. 

Talky Talk: She Said, She Said

With so much exposition to establish, the text can be a bit muddled and heavy on details. Also not as clear is the contrast between Denna and Mare's narrative styles, especially with personalities as distinct as theirs. And although there's an entire whodunnit subplot, I found the romance to be much more compelling. Nor would I have minded spending more time on the characterization of the supporting cast instead. (Everyone has so many layers!)

Bonus Factor: World Building

Real talk: I've been known to Fred Savage fantasy novels based on my tolerance for their made-up names. Which was, like, so tempting to do here, with monikers like the aforementioned Mare and her brother Thandilimon, who was ostensibly named after salmon toppings (i.e., dill and lemon). 

Fortunately, I was able to put aside my own weird biases, because Coulthurst has created a fantasy world with intriguing parallels to our own. While patriarchy and traditional gender roles persist, homophobia does not. (Denna and Mare angst over falling in love with their future sister-in-law and brother's fiancée, respectively, rather than their sexuality.) There's also a faction of people demonized for the actions of a few extremists that they themselves actually condemn. GEE, SOUND FAMILIAR?

Bonus Factor: Super Powers

Known as Affinities, elemental magic like Denna's is grounds for persecution. One scene in particular uses magic as a stand-in for non-heterosexuality to great effect as an analogue for coming out. 

Ambivalent Factor: Horses

I don't even know where the stereotype* of horse lovers being super into horses comes from, but this book def. contains a lot of horse talk. 

*I think this is a thing, at least; I personally know none and yet somehow associate them with that trait. I blame the ubiquity of horse novels during my formative years. 

Casting Call:

Renee O'Connor and Lucy Lawless as Dennaleia and Mare

These aren't actually great fits for the characters, but once the idea of young Xena s Mare got stuck in my head, I couldn't not cast Gabrielle, too. 

Freddie Stroma as Thandilimon

Relationship Status: Infatuation

Sure, this book and I have a few differences, but those pale greatly in comparison to what it does SO WELL. Thank you for serving as a reminder of the limitless versatility of the fantasy genre. 

Of Fire and Stars is available now.