I think this book might have been one of my most-anticipated YA reads of 2017. Maybe even one of my most-anticipated fantasy reads. Here's why: it has a LGBT aspect to it. While this isn't something that I actively seek out in books, I'm very aware that LGBT romances are rather lacking in markets other than their own niche romance pool, and while there are increasing numbers of them in the YA market, I don't believe I've encountered a single book in which the main couple was anything other than straight. Tamora Pierce has a couple of gay couples in her books, but they're not the focus. And so I was intrigued.
When Princess Dennaleia moves to Mynaria to marry its prince and one day become queen, she only wants to serve her people, old and new, as well as she can, and to hide her fire Affinity, a sort of magic--magic being feared in both her home country and Mynaria and another country of Sonnenborne, and only being welcomed in a third country (Zumorda? Zumora? Zumordra?) that is feared by the other three precisely because of magic. Unfortunately for Denna, she immediately finds herself drawn to the prince's sister, Mare (short for Amaranthine) first as a potential ally and then in other, stronger ways, and she also realizes that her Affinity is becoming harder to control, and seems to be expanding to elements other than fire.
Unfortunately, other than the promise of the lesbian romance, there's not really much else to highlight this book. Denna and Mare inhabit a world in which gay romances aren't reviled or scrutinized--it's made apparent at various points throughout the book that same-sex relationships are perfectly normal, and that in different circumstances a marriage between Denna and Mare would have been a real possibility. However, beyond that little tidbit, the world building is minimal and the characterizations sparse. Mynaria is a country defined by a horse culture, but why? Why do people hate and fear magic, except in that Z-country whose name I can't remember? What's going on there? Why is every adult in this book vastly incompetent? Yes, YA books are all about, well, young adults solving problems, but at least in most of them the adults seem to be absent rather than purely stupid. Thandi, Denna's actual fiance, could have been an intriguing character but instead just turned out to be someone who brushed off Denna even though he had such promise. The plot itself is thin, with the villain being pretty obvious from the main fact of being the only person not to be seriously examined, and the intricacies that set up so many of the intrigues never really being examined. There's not a lot of action, just a lot of riding horses and people having political discussions while ignoring Mare, Denna, or both--a setup that might have worked had these discussions set up a more robust world or given our heroines more to do while not in the discussions, but other than about five minutes of sleuthing, no such luck. Meanwhile, the book is left very open-ended, with a ton of loose ends and no sequel in sight even though several other upcoming books are listed on Coulthurst's website.
Overall, this book promised more than it delivered. Very disappointing.
2 stars out of 5.