Official Summary: 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.
My Thoughts: This book was one of my most anticipated reads of 2016. A fantasy wlw novel? Exactly what I’ve been waiting for. And it was… fairly decent. Better than other fantasy wlw books I’ve read (or tried to). Overall, I loved the characters and thought the love story was done really well. The writing style was very good as well. But the plot was mediocre at best. It felt clichéd and too much.
Let’s start with what I liked. I thought the characters were really well developed, especially Dennaleia and Amaranthine. Denna is very scholarly and intelligent, while also having a fierce spirit. She is courageous in an understated way. Mare is a girl who likes horses more than people and hates being a princess. She’s snarky and constantly underestimated. Their love story is very cute. It’s a slow burn that starts with them barely tolerating each other to forming a strong friendship to realizing they’re not only attracted to each other, but are in love. It builds slowly and naturally over the course of several months.
The writing style is very detailed and uses some creative metaphors. It’s not overly flowery, but is beautiful and detailed. It builds the perfect tone for a medievalesque magical setting. It was in fact more beautiful than I anticipated, being a debut novel.
I do have several issues with this book, however, and they all generally build from the plot. The basic story is that someone is killing the royal family. The way it’s carried out seems very… done before. Also, it felt like there was too much conflict, so you could never focus on what was the most significant. There is, first of all, the royal family and the Directorate that apparently do nothing and yet have still managed to keep the kingdom running this long. There is the strange relationship between Mare and her brother and father. There is never really any explanation on how and when their disdain for her began, only that their contentious relationship has gone on for years. There are the Recusants who believe magic should be legal (and there are different groups within the Recusants). There are the fundamentalists who are anti-Recusant and religious extremists. There is the inexplicable alliance between Mynaria (a kingdom against magic) and Havemont (a kingdom that allows magic). Zumorda is another pro-magic kingdom of whom no one seems to know its goals, but is considered an enemy. There is also Sonnenborne which is made up of recently united tribes. This was likely done in order to provide several suspects, but felt too confusing as it’s all explored very surface-level. Also, a character would suspect something and then act way too surprised when they find out it is real. I also would’ve liked Denna’s magic to be explored farther and to have been a bigger conflict, rather than a side problem.
I don’t want to get spoilery, but there is something possibly problematic in Sonnenborne. No characters are confirmed to be PoC, but the use of the word “tribe” definitely implies that at least most of them are PoC. This becomes especially questionable later on in the plot. At best, this suggests a watering-down or even taking-away of their individual cultures in combining them together like that. And, even though all these places are fictitious, it does have negative connotations giving the history of any white influence doing this to PoC ever. But, as nothing is actually confirmed and it’s very much a side thing, I can’t be certain if this is truly problematic or not. I would love to get a PoC who has read this book’s opinion on this.
I think this book would benefit from having a sequel. I don’t know if one is in the works, but I don’t think Denna and Mare’s story is done. Especially with Denna starting to fully explore her magic. I think this story could definitely benefit from more development on that front.
But overall, I enjoyed this book. It wasn’t everything I’d hoped, but the romance between Denna and Mare was a lot better than I expected. I genuinely hope to see more of these two in the future. Also the cover is really freaking cute.
My Rating: 3/5
(This post was originally posted on my Tumblr.)