Of Fire and Stars is Audrey Coulthurst’s debut fantasy, laced with forbidden romance and political intrigue. Coulthurst crafted a solid debut that will meet readers’ expectations, while still leaving them wanting more.
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 (Chapters.Indigo.ca).
Coulthurst promised a lot from her debut novel – action, adventure, espionage and even an LGBTQ2+ romance between to two main heroines. Unfortunately, she failed to deliver on anything but a moderately engaging romance, falling short when it came to delivering engaging action and a memorable adventure.
What I Liked:
- Initially, Denna and Mare’s relationship, while adding some much needed LGBTQ2+ representation to the genre, felt unnecessarily forced and and unauthentic. While LGBTQ2+ relationships were not out of place in the story (on more than one occasion, other LGBTQ2+ relationships are referenced, such as Odin’s, the Baker’s boy, relationship with a male squire in Havemont), Denna and Mare seemed like unlikely partners forced together by forced circumstances. However, as their relationship progressed, I found myself more and more engaged in their story, engrossed by what the outcome could possibly be when Denna had been promised to Thandi, the Prince (and Mare’s brother) for almost a decade. Coulthurst did a wonderful job a drawing readers into this unlikely romance, despite early blunders and facade’s.
- I very much enjoyed Nils’ character, and was disappointed he didn’t get more character development, because he certainly deserved it.
What I Didn’t Like:
- The name’s of the main characters – like come on. When the author is forced to give (essentially) every main character a nickname because their full names are too much of a mouthful, you know you’ve gone too far in creating fantastical names. Thandilimon, King Aturnicus, Zumordan, Dennaleia, Amarathine … You see what I mean. More than anything, when their full names were used, it distracted from the story as I spent a good several minutes mentally practicing pronunciations. Moreover, their nicknames were all ridiculously childish (Thandi? Mare?) and reduced their characters to children rather than young adults trying to find their place ina kingdom on the brink of war.
- Of Fire and Stars was simply boring. There’s no kind way to put it. Far too much time was spent walking around, discussing things without any actual progress, or riding through fields for no apparent purpose (other than that a princess should know how to ride a horse). Much of the action and intrigue came across as dull and uninspiring as a result of the methodological and bland writing, failing to evoke any emotion or shock from the reader. As the book went on, I found it harder and harder to find the motivation to pick it up, as I knew there would be very little to engage my interest.
- The lack of character development. Denna and Mare were thrust upon the reader, already fully developed characters with set roles to play – Coulthurst didn’t really put any time into building their characters beyond their ill-conceived romance. Moreover, absolutely no secondary characters, including the prince, underwent any sort of development. I felt detached from the characters, simply because they were words on paper to me, never having been given any actual personalities to make them more human and likeable.
- The “love triangle”. This is a personal complaint, more than anything, but really – no matter what spin an author puts on it, the love triangle trope has been bled dry at this point.
Coulthurst did a magnificent job building and portraying Mare and Denna’s budding romance. She turned it from something dull and uninspiring into something memorable and unique. But beyond that, Coulthurst simply failed to inspire with Of Fire and Stars. The bits of action were dull and disorganized, with far too much talk and inaction between. Furthermore, the majority of the characters simply didn’t undergo enough development, or any at all, to make the reader care about them, which made Of Fire and Stars a less than memorable read (2.5/5).