Danika reviews Of Ice and Shadows by Audrey Coulthurst

Of Ice and Shadows by Audrey CoulthurstHas it really been three years since I fell in love with Of Fire and Stars? I never had a chance against a high fantasy YA about two princesses falling for each other. I was eager to pick up the sequel, and it definitely did not disappoint. In fact, I think this second book has a stronger plot than the first one.

Mare and Denna, despite the less-than-ideal circumstances, are young and in love at the beginning of this story. Their relationship is flirty and sweet. But of course, this is the second book in (hopefully) a trilogy, and they face some obstacles before their Happily Ever After. I appreciated that it didn’t feel like a contrivance to keep them apart: Denna is struggling to deal with her out-of-control magic, and Mare is afraid because of it, and wishes Denna didn’t have it–which makes Denna resentful. She has had to repress who she is her whole life, and she refuses to return to that.

So, they’re forced to part ways, and both end up doing their own side quests. While war is on the horizon, they both work to power themselves up (whether in magic, diplomacy, or fighting skills) and uncover some mysteries and conspiracies happening behind the scenes. The point of view cycles between them, and I found them both equally gripping.

I appreciated the world-building that went on here, too. Zumorda, Sonnenborne, Mynaria, and Havemont all feel like real places with deep histories and cultures. One values magical abilities as the only true show of power, one is without magic, one reviles it. Some countries worship the gods, others have abandoned them (or been abandoned by them). There are differences within countries in their beliefs, whether it’s the diverse tribes in Sonnenborne, or the Tamers, who believe that their magic comes from nature and makes them beholden to protect the land. Denna and Mare both have to learn that their education about other countries has been lacking and biased.

I started listening to the audiobook of Inkmistress, but I fell off of it. I wasn’t aware that it tied in so closely to this book: although it’s set hundreds of years before, there is a significant character that overlaps in both, and it was a shock to see them resurface! It also gives a lot of interesting background into the history of one of the countries, including the religious and magical underpinnings. Although technically you can read Of Ice and Shadows without that background, I’d recommend checking it out for the full effect. Now I want to go back and finish it to get the whole picture!

Everything I loved about Of Fire and Stars is continued in the sequel, but we get to see Denna and Mare grow and develop, the world get more fleshed out, and the plot pick up. I liked switching between both story lines, and when they converge again, the story ends with a bang. Even the minor characters are memorable. I really hope that this series gets a third book, because I want to see more from these characters and this world.

Whitney D.R. reviews Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill

Princess Princess Ever After cover

Princess Princess Ever After is a cute middle-grade story about two princesses who evade their royal duties, but find something greater along the way.

I have to admit, I was nervous to read this based on the cover.  I’m always leary when one of the main characters is of color and masculine-presenting (Amira), while the other main character is white and traditionally feminine looking (Sadie).  While this story involves two princesses, I thought Amira would more ‘princely’ and constantly having to save Sadie. In media, very rarely do we get to see a woman/girl of color be a damsel in distress, always having to save her white counterparts from various dangers (usually of their own making).

I needn’t have worried.  While Sadie did need to be rescued initially, she definitely held her own once she was free of her confinement.  Sadie and Amira aren’t pigeonholed into any particular (gender) roles. They show both vulnerability and toughness.  Sadie had to learn to stand up for and believe in herself and not let her magic be taken or downplayed by others. Amira realized she still had a lot to learn about herself and the world.  But together, these two princesses made a heck of team battling making battling and then making friends with different fantastical creatures and saving Sadie’s kingdom from her evil witch of a sister.

I will say that I wish there had been more about Amira’s kingdom and her background in general.  She seemed to have been from an Egyptian or South Asian-styled place with a family, but left it all behind.  That’s all readers really see and it was a bit disappointing.

There also wasn’t a lot of obvious romance between Sadie and Amira (mostly blushing and meaningful looks at each other), which isn’t surprising considering the age this book is directed to. And they spend so much time away from each other before they get their happy ending, though I understand it was so both princess could better themselves and, in Sadie’s case, her kingdom.  But readers do get a lovely wedding and happily ever after that was almost like a Disney movie.

All in all, Princess Princess Ever After was cute with great art and story.  I just wish there was a sequel or more pages that depicted Sadie and Amira’s time apart before reuniting after what seemed like years.  Middle school me would have love to have read this at that age.

3.5 stars

Marthese reviews A Royal Romance by Jenny Frame

‘’Duty and service come first’’

I have a soft-spot for queer royalty romance books. I have said it before and I stand by it. When I discovered A Royal Romance by Jenny Frame, it was an immediate add to my TBR. When I saw there was an audiobook, I took the opportunity to honour one of my New Year’s resolutions. The audiobook is narrated by Lesley Parkin, and let me just say that the voice was fantastic.

Set in the future, Frame’s A Royal Romance follows Princess Georgina (soon Queen) and Beatrice Elliot, a Republican charity worker. Georgina is the first openly gay monarch and the first woman to be first in line before her brother. The royal family were (almost) all a delight; they were so supportive of Georgina – although as head of the family, they rely a lot on her. Who will she rely on?

Beatrice and George meet after Georgina becomes Queen. On her road for coronation, George wants to support one main charity – to give them patronage and exposure. She chooses Beatrice’s charity for their great work and Bea, as the regional manager, is the only person who can take her around the country on site visits. This sets some sparks flying. They clear things enough to be able to work together, but the class and cultural divide is ever-present, and it doesn’t take much for hostility and misunderstandings and feelings of inferiority and inadequacy to take over. A lot of misconceptions have to be cleared up first.

Bea is refreshing to George. They both challenge each other to think in a different way. It’s a monarchy match, especially because George has to marry and she prefers to marry for love…she just has to convince Beatrice.

Sarah and Reg Elliot, Beatrice’s parents were also a delight. It’s the kind of family most people dream of.

The ending of the story was action packed. Some tragedy and lots of celebrations.

The world building in the book was deeply researched and it shows. I learned a lot of new things about monarchy and places. There were a lot of staff positions, creating this intricate web of people surrounding the royal family, although at times I felt there were too many people involved. There were also a lot of traditions (George is old-fashioned) and protocols (much to Beatrice’s annoyance). All this added up for the story to feel realistic.

While I enjoyed the story I felt there were some things that could have been better. There was the generic discourse of ‘gay or straight’. Moreover, despite the story being set in the 2050s, it’s still ‘man or woman’. I would like authors that acknowledge other sexual and/or romantic orientations and a diversity of genders! I also had minor problems with lack of explicit consent or delayed consent.

I also felt that their relationship moved too fast. Granted, there was a timeline and it’s not like they could afford to have privacy, but Bea’s character would have at least said something.

The narrator was great. Parkin gave different voices to each character and distinguished them from the narration voice. At times, I forgot it was just one person. My only issue was with the Belgian accent but accents are very hard to replicate. George’s voice is very poised, whereas Bea’s voice is saccharine sweet.

Despite loving royalty in books (they spice things up), I’m much more of a presidential republican but the reasons given in the book for Monarchy actually made sense and I went on the journey with Beatrice.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. It entertained me during many hours on the bus. The struggle for Georgie’s and Bea’s relationship was real. I would recommend to romance lovers, monarchists or British lovers. This is a perfect beach (or cozy) read.