Princess Lily, the eldest of twelve sisters and heir to a mighty kingdom, desperately seeks a break from her mother's matchmaking. Tradition forbids marriage with the man Lily loves, so she would rather rule alone than marry someone who only wants the crown.
Fleeing an overzealous suitor, Lily stumbles into a secret underground kingdom where she and her sisters encounter a mysterious sorcerer-prince and become entangled in a curse that threatens the safety of her family and her people. Lily can free them, but the price for freedom may be more than she's willing to pay.
I'm a big fan of retellings, I love the genre, but sadly there's a lot of misses as well as hits. Now this story, wow, what a cover, it has to be said. That is a simply gorgeous cover. I've been burnt before, so I tried not to get my hopes up too high after seeing it and reading the blurb. But I couldn't get it out of my head and finally bought it. It immediately jumped to the front of my to-read list and despite telling myself not to get too excited . . . I did.
And I LOVED IT!!! Let me explain how much I loved it. I loved it so much I'm going to gush about it, and I almost never gush. I loved it so much that even though I'd been doing non-stop party prep for the past two days and the party itself the following day, I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning reading it because I couldn't stop.
I finally scolded myself into going to sleep, and after the party the next day, I was up until after 1am finishing. From the start, this book had me hooked.
Immediately we're thrown into a situation that we don't fully understand. Lily is in a maze, but they WHY is left hanging for a few pages. Is she fleeing? Playing? Lost? Trapped? Is this the underworld? I had to keep reading just to know what the heck she was doing!!
Then it's revealed what's going on and shortly after that Lily bumps into Runson. Ugh, that guy . . . I officially hated him for every scene he was in. The guy is a complete creep! He traps Lily, has no physical boundaries, and then he LICKS her hand. Yeah, licks it, like a cat, or a child. My children are in the hand licking stage because they like to play kitties.
People, hand licking is never romantic, it's just plain gross! Especially if the owner of the hand doesn't like you! Just . . . don't. So right away Doué did an excellent job of setting up Runson as repulsive and making me side with Lily. I wanted her to escape from him, and every time they crossed paths I got all "Noooooo, ick, run, blech." Runson's goal, of course, is to convince Lily to marry him. He thinks he's hot stuff and can't imagine someone would say no, and takes zero hints. When Lily's curse hits and she can't speak . . . it makes things interesting.
I've had a hard time putting my love into words, so hopefully now that I've had a few days to think about it, I'll manage. The Firethorn Crown had everything I love to see in a book. It had well-developed characters I can loath or love as I'm supposed to, characters I want to see more of, a romance I can believe and cheer for, a plot that keeps me guessing(hard to do with a retelling), and amazing descriptions.
There's a certain difficulty that comes with the story of the 12 dancing princesses. Let's face it, that's a lot of characters. Like the dwarves in the Hobbit, if you have a large group in settings like this, it's best to NOT try and make all of them fully developed. I really liked how the sisters were handled in this regard, a couple of them stand out and are fleshed out with personalities, while others are mostly names.
Lily, the oldest and the MC. Lily knows how to lead and stand up for herself. She's not as upfront and bossy as some characters, but she's no shy flower either. Lily loves her sisters, and she'll do anything for them. She's not afraid to stand up to people, like her mother. I LOVED the scene where Lily told her mom off. So many times I read/watch stories where the characters HAVE to be polite and doormat-ish around their parents just because "it's my parent." No, I'm sorry, being a parent doesn't give anyone an automatic pass to act however they like.
The fact that Lily stood up to her mom, without name-calling or anything, and told her how it was had me cheering her on. I was jumping around and yelling, "Go Lily, Go Lily!" Her mom's so lost in her own personal world, she ignores her kids and how they're feeling. She doesn't care how they're feeling or what they want. And then when Lily is unable to speak and CLEARLY something isn't right, instead of parenting to figure out what's wrong she's like, "Yo, make me a declaration peeps that says anyone who does my job for me and finds out what's wrong can have any kid they choose to marry." And she just wants to know because she's annoyed that Lily isn't choosing a husband, not because she actually CARES(heaven forbid) about her daughters.
Melantha, I so want to hear more of her story. She's the princess packing daggers and who's friends with a prince who tends geese. She's the one wearing boots to go dancing and taking charge when Lily isn't able to speak.
Gwen is the second oldest and we're told would be considered "better" for the role of future queen. She's extremely proper, and stuffy.
Hazel is the only blonde in the group and seems to be considered the prettiest. It's stated that she wants to catch a man who's high ranking. But then she meets someone who doesn't qualify, but who she is attracted to nonetheless. I'd be curious to see more of her story just based on her potential love interest.
Neylan I found the most fascinating of the 11 sisters. She's kind of . . . strange. There's something about her. Like she has a gift or something. Almost like she has some sort of uncanny intuition and always knows what to say and would probably make most people uncomfortable with her way of talking. I really liked her.
Bay, like the list of sister's below, I didn't get a good impression of(whether by design or personal draw to certain characters), but she has an ex-sorcerer bodyguard and since sorcerer's are like outlaws in this world and none of the other sister's has a bodyguard, I'm so voting for she's an undercover sorceress. Even if I'm wrong, I've got to know why.
Coral, Ivy, Wren, Ruby, Azure, and Junia didn't stand out to me though I know Coral had red hair and two of those girls were twins and I think Azure was Melantha's twin.
I think by not trying to make all 12 princesses stand out, the author allowed herself space to work on the other characters. There's a lot more men in this retelling than I'm used to, and I loved it. Besides the ever creepy, can't take a hint, Runson, there's Prince Holic, the man who's supposed to be there for Lily, but finds his attention occupied elsewhere.
Holic, even though he's obviously not Lily's love interest, is a nice guy who fills that role of a big brother. I liked that the male roles weren't "king who only gets angry about his daughter's slippers and makes the stupid proclomation" and "King of the underworld who's just evil" and "Love interest for FMC."
Then there's Prince Orin, who spends his days as the goose boy. I mean, talk about down to earth! Sure, it's also obvious he's not Lily's love interest, but he's a neat guy who wants to help and is pretty much down for any crazy thing the girls come up with.
And then, there's Tharius. The prince of the underground realm. Wow, he was *shudders* dark and scary, but also so very real. Like the guy has been underground his whole life, his parents are dead, and the only people left are a few old courtiers and shadow people(fake). You can tell he's never really had parents to teach him right from wrong or how to act around people. He's lacking social skills and morality. Yet there's some part of me that was going, he's a product of his circumstances. There was something about making him more human that made him scarier. He was a whole different type of evil.
And last, but certainly not least, is Eben. Eben is a guard who right from the start whewwww. The chemistry between him and Lily would knock anyone of their feet. It's so rare I meet two characters and right from the start I'm thinking, you need to get together!!! But this time, I so did.
One of their very early interactions, Eben's obviously jealous. He knows he's a guard and Lily's the crown princess. And boy, does he FEEL it. I'm yelling at the book, "Argh, Eben!!! She loves you! You don't need to be jealous." He so badly wants to take Runson to the woodshed, but Lily not giving the command makes him wonder why. The tension between Runson and Eben . . . feel the heat.
And then there's this maze in the middle of the garden that's all strange and weird-like(it's midnight, I'm allowed to be all over in this review). No one but the princesses go in, except for the hand licker. The maze changes, grows over, shifts, adds things.
The first time the girls go into the underworld, I had chills. I wanted to crawl under my blankets. I'm thinking, "Go back, go back! Scary! Danger!" It was like watching giant spiders hide in trees over a path while unsuspecting victims walked beneath. You just KNOW something bad is coming.
What was absolutely brilliant is how the girls don't go forward out of stupidity, but because going back is impossible. I always get annoyed when a setting is sending bad vibes. The creepy organ music starts playing, darkness creeps in, the plants wither, there's no animal noises, and Sally May just skips along the path singing as loud as she can in her bright yellow cloak.
Not this time folks! Girls start thinking, oh yeah, something ain't right. They try to go back a few times and DENIED!! I'm like AHHHHH, too late!!!
Next thing you know, they're stuck in Tharius's curse and they have to break it. The girls can't speak about the curse or they'll faint. Lily "shouldn't" speak at all or she'll doom them all. So there's Lily, having to remember not to talk and Runson's like ooh, she can't say no!! Not like he was ever good at listening.
Between Runson in the above world, and Tharius in the underground kingdom, Lily has almost nonstop pressure to marry someone and remembering not to talk is a drag. Tharius gets more demanding the more she hesitates, but luckily the sister's protect each other and find ways to take the pressure off of Lily.
Now besides all of the great storytelling and characters, I absolutely LOVED the descriptions. Beyond words really. I just want a picture of this world. A picture of the kingdom under stone, and the maze. So vibrant and real.
"They passed topiaries with leaves of moldy jade trimmed into mangled geometric shapes, feathery tulips of coal-edged plum, and roses of blackberry, indigo, and grizzled sage, the colors somehow vibrant and dark at the same time. Pale baby’s breath and moonflowers offered contrast to the deep hues. Near the edge of the pathway huddled clusters of pitch-black mushrooms with cracks that oozed an orange glow, like the lava fields described by Travelers from the north."How can you not be impressed! It was simply exquisite and I'm immensely jealous of Doue's talent. Falling asleep here, and I don't want to give anything away, but this has been my favorite book this year, and I've read some really good books.
I'll be buying myself the paperback of this book, and when book two does come out(which better be soon!), I'll buy the paperback of that right away because I can't imagine being disappointed by it. I know I'm sleepy while writing this, and I've never been good about ranting in favor of books. It's so hard to fully express why I love stories, and I can only hope I did this one justice.
I can definitely recommend this one as my top read of 2016 and say that the beautiful cover matches a beautiful story.
Yeah, I'm going to be that annoying person who harasses an author telepathically until they release the next book.
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