Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

I found Of Fire and Stars to be a very problematic read. From the cliche fantasy setting to very flat and one dimensional characters, there just wasn’t enough originality here to hold my interest. Add in very silly Tolkienesque naming conventions and I found I was cringing far too often to get any enjoyment from this novel.

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Story: Princess Dennaleia has a secret – she can use magic. But she is betrothed to a prince in a kingdom that despises magic. Wild spirit Princess Amaranthine is the prince’s sister and instantly dislikes the pampered girl her brother is to marry. The two form an unlikely friendship that soon develops into something deeper as they face the trials and dangers of Mynaria.

If there is a race to hit every YA/fantasy/romance cliche, this book wins hands down. Special snowflake super-perfect heroine, falls inexplicably for wild and rough at the edges love interest, then they face some silly overwritten trials that serve only to force them together, and then bring in evil mustache twirling bad guys. This is more soppy romance than fantasy, though, and too often it feels like it was conceived when the author was ten years old.

As a fantasy, it falls short in the creativity category. Bog standard European history style princesses and princes aren’t given much depth – Game of Thrones this isn’t. The magic is as simplistic as our heroines and the world building, sadly. Perhaps this passage from the book best gives you an idea of the story: “She growled. “For the love of the Six, don’t call me that. Just Mare. Yes, like a horse. Stupid, I know, but I can’t stand Amaranthine. What a ridiculously overlong and pretentious collection of syllables.” That rather sums up most of the naming conventions in the book and the likability of this main character. But really, “mare” for a main character obsessed with horses?

If the characters had had more depth, it might have been interesting. But ‘Denna’ is your standard goody-two shoes naive and sweet Disney princess – I kept expecting little birds braiding her hair in the morning. Mare, of course, is the rough and tumble heart of gold diamond in the rough – Aladdin without a sense of humor. As such, the story is undemanding but can also be very unfulfilling as the relationship between these two progresses. Mare is a jerk but of course our little protected princess finds that endearing rather than annoying.

On paper, this hits all the ‘popular’ ticks: Disney fairytale, fantasy (thanks, G.O.T), YA romance, and LBGT. But it never really achieves any creativity in any of those genres and indeed feels like a very simplified and watered-down version of all three. The plot is expected and there aren’t enough twists or action beyond the soppy romance. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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