Of Fire and Stars, Of Ice and Shadows and Inkmistress by Audrey Coulthurst all take place in a long ago faraway kingdom with magic – old magic, that is bound to the gods and to the land. Many have affinities for the magic, and others fear it. In all three of these novels, magic is power – but love conquers all.
Of Fire and Stars (2016) focuses on two princesses in a dual narrative, strong and brilliant, underestimated by their respective families. Princess Denna is from a land where magic is not openly practiced, although she herself has an affinity for it – mostly fire. She hides this fact because she has been betrothed since childhood to the Prince of Mynaria, to bind their kingdoms together in peace, and where magic is considered dangerous and illegal.
Once Denna gets to Mynaria she meets Mare, the Princess of Mynaria, who is worldlywise, and would rather spend her days in the horse stables than dealing in on politics. Mare gives Denna riding lessons, and the two hit it off, leaving Denna feeling that she would rather marry the Princess than the Prince.
One thing that Coulthurst did beautifully throughout all of her books was make the characters sexuality a non-issue. They are all fluid to some degree, and in this world Denna could just as easily been betrothed to Mare – it just didn’t work out that way. The trouble doesn’t arise because Denna falls in love with a girl, it’s that she’s betrothed to her brother, trying to hold their kingdoms together and keep her magic a secret.
Of Ice and Shadows (newly released August 2019) starts where Of Fire and Stars leaves off. Fans of the first book had to wait three years for the sequel, but it was worth it. Denna must find a way to control her magic, and Mare must broker peace with a warring kingdom. When Denna’s magic gets out of control, she realizes that she needs to leave Mare to get the training she needs from the Queen of Zumorda. They are both devastated to leave each other, but find it is a necessity.
I appreciated the women power in this book. They go to the Zumordan Queen, who essentially has a court full of powerful intelligent women ruling the kingdom. This is a sharp contrast to Of Fire and Stars, where the King, the Prince and the other council members rely on their titles instead of their merits. This is a world where both Denna and Mare’s strengths can be appreciated.
Inkmistress (2018) is a prequel to the Of Fire and Stars duo. This story, being a prequel, gives us insight to the Zumordan Queen as a young woman, and how she came to power.
The protagonist, Asra, is a very powerful, underestimated demi-god, with the power to write the future with her blood. She acts out of love for her girlfriend, Ina, who ultimately betrays her – not a spoiler, it happens right away. The rest of the story is Asra trying to repair the damage that she’s done, and all along the way being presented with terrible choices, each having consequences, then having to live with that fact that she had to choose the lesser of two evils.
Asra’s sexuality is fluid as well, as she meets the dashing wind demi-god, Hal, and they figure out how to save the kingdom and all the magic that is linked to it. While Of Fire and Stars focuses more on character development – and a criticism on goodreads is that it lacks world-building, Inkmistress feels like a manual on world-building. If you love sweeping landscapes and internal angst, you’ll love this one, although I preferred the former. The sequel, Of Ice and Shadows has the best balance of character vs. world building.
All three of these novels clip along at a brisk pace, and would be perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore, Tamora Pierce and Malinda Lo.