Princesses Denna and Mare are in love and together at last—only to face a new set of dangers.
Mare just wants to settle down with the girl she loves, which would be easier if Denna weren’t gifted with forbidden and volatile fire magic. Denna must learn to control her powers, which means traveling in secret to the kingdom of Zumorda, where she can seek training without fear of persecution. Determined to help, Mare has agreed to serve as an ambassador as a cover for their journey.
But just after Mare and Denna arrive in Zumorda, an attack on a border town changes everything. Mare’s diplomatic mission is now urgent: She must quickly broker an alliance with the Zumordan queen to protect her homeland. However, the queen has no interest in allying with other kingdoms—it’s Denna’s untamed but powerful magic that catches her eye. The queen offers to teach Denna herself, and both girls know it would be dangerous to refuse.
As Denna’s powers grow stronger, Mare does her best to be the ambassador her kingdom needs. Her knowledge of Zumorda and its people grows, and so too do her suspicions about the queen’s intentions. With rising tensions and unexpected betrayals putting Mare and Denna in jeopardy and dangerous enemies emerging on all sides, can they protect their love and save their kingdoms?
Warnings: animal cruelty, physical violence, mentions of slavery
Of Ice and Shadows continues Mare’s and Denna’s story as they go to Zumorda to get help for the Sonnenborne’s invasion of Mynaria. Mare is representing herself as the ambassador for her kingdom, and Denna, thought to be dead, is posing as her handmaiden; their goals are two-fold as Mare seeks alliances and Denna a trainer who will help her control her powers. However, because of these goals diverging in direction when they do reach the Zumordan capital, they are separated and driven apart by it. Meanwhile, we also get more insight into how the Zumordan kingdom works, and the magic system there. I would suggest reading Inkmistress before this, because (a) it will have some spoilers for Inkmistress and (b) you will need some of the background information as this book does reference some events from Inkmistress and finally gives a timeline for the events of the book.
A big thing about their journey into Zumorda is how much both of these main characters grow – Mare finally steps up into a leadership role, and Denna decides how to go forth now that she is free to make her choices. The relationship between the two has some troubles due to Denna’s control over her magic and Mare’s fear over magic; the latter feels things would be better if Denna didn’t have magic, which the former obviously doesn’t like. Also, in Zumorda, Mare’s position of being a ‘helpless vakos‘ feeds into her insecurities as she thinks she can’t give Denna the future she deserves; Denna meanwhile is fighting against using her powers while being taken under the massive dragon wing of Queen Invasya, who has her own complicated personality that is best learnt through Inkmistress. There are other secondary characters who make a mark in their story, but I felt the development of their friendships wasn’t so well-done.
The book’s main issue is the slow pace and its habit of repeating itself. While the plot itself is pretty interesting in that it gives us more insight into the Sonnenborne’s machinations, as well as the diplomatic ties between the countries, it also involves a fair bit of traveling and training arcs. This book could have also been probably a 100 pages shorter if it didn’t go again and again over the same few things – Mare’s fear of magic, Denna’s fear of her hurting Mare, Mare being suspicious about the two Sonnenborne scholars and telling whoever will listen (she has zero tact and sneakiness *sigh* and it comes across as xenophobic tbh) and Denna’s investigation into the mystery of why Zumorda doesn’t worship gods.
Overall, it is a good sequel but while it is rewarding in the last quarter, it was a slog to get through.
Is it diverse? Sapphic main characters in a relationship; secondary PoC and queer characters.
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Balzer & Bray, via Netgalley.
Previous books in the Of Fire and Stars series
Releases on August 13, 2019