When I first started reading The Rose Throne by Mette Ivie Harrison, I have to admit that I was pretty excited. The cover art was lovely and the summary on the back was enough to get me started. The story sounded right up my ally.
The plot from Goodreads:
Ailsbet loves nothing more than music; tall and red-haired, she’s impatient with the artifice and ceremony of her father’s court. Marissa adores the world of her island home and feels she has much to offer when she finally inherits the throne from her wise, good-tempered father. The trouble is that neither princess has the power–or the magic–to rule alone, and if the kingdoms can be united, which princess will end up ruling the joint land? For both, the only goal would seem to be a strategic marriage to a man who can bring his own brand of power to the throne. But will either girl be able to marry for love? And can either of these two princesses, rivals though they have never met, afford to let the other live?
The fantasy genre has long been a favorite for readers – magic, romance, princesses, ancient prophecies, etc. It might start to feel like it’s all be done before, but thankfully this story is different. Harrison has gone to great detail and effort to create a world that is new and never seen before. There are two types of magic here. One is Anger and Death, given to men: taweyr. The other is Nature and Beauty reserved for women: neweyr. In order for there to be a happy kingdom there must be a balance of both magics.
The two main characters Ailsbet and Issa are just delightful in this carefully crafted story. It is clear from the onset that Ailsbet, the musically gifted princess of Rurik, would be a great leader. She is passionate and kind, clever and careful. Yet, because she is a woman with no magic she is unable to rule. As the story goes on a secret is revealed about Ailsbet’s magic, one that even she wasn’t expecting. This secret has the power to threaten not only her chances at the throne but also her life. I found myself really drawn to her as she struggled with her new identity. In many ways she was already trapped by her title as princess, one without magic. But once she truly comes into herself she has to make some choices that have implications beyond herself.
Issa is a princess from the other island. The journey from Ailbet’s castle to Issa’s takes a long and dangerous month. In her kingdom, Issa has been in charge of the feminine magic in her lands since the passing of her mother. She would like the opportunity to lead in her own kingdom, but it doesn’t seem possible for her. Ailsbet’s father has more power and thus more control. When Kellin, a handsome messenger, arrives with a proposal of marriage from Ailsbet’s kid brother, Issa knows what she must do, for everyone’s sake.
Much of the plot is driven by what the ladies have to do for political advancement. As a reader I liked seeing the girls struggle with the decisions they had to make because it really grounded them. Ailsbet’s father, the terrible King Haikor of Rurik, is obsessed with his power and magic and often taxes men a portion of their magic, which he sucks from them in quite a grotesque way. Ailsbet’s mother, Queen Aske, has been asked for years to suppress her own magic so that the magic of men would be stronger still. This leaves Anger and Death to run rampant in Rurik. With these two as parents, Ailsbet takes on quite a bit of responsibility for her brother, Edik, often putting his needs and political strategy ahead of her own. She knows that a marriage with Issa will unite the two kingdoms but she struggles with whether this would be good or simply an invitation for her father to increase his power and realm at the expense of Issa’s people. Issa has to grapple with just the same problem with an added layer, she has fallen in love with a Duke of Rurik. Should she choose love? Can she? It’s this question that both women really have to consider. Who’s happiness is more important and at what cost?
What I really loved is the balance between the seriousness of the prophecy and decisions both ladies have to make and the sweetness of the romance mixed in. Issa’s love story unfolds slowly at first, then all at once. This was one of my favorite parts of the story, and I’m not really a romance girl! I never felt overwhelmed by it or that that piece of the puzzle overshadowed any other part. I admit that it initially worried me based on the cover! That girl looks like a damsel in distress if I’ve ever seen one!
Really, my only complaint was that the language was a bit much at first. Harrison invents many words to describe her magical world and if you’re not paying close attention you might miss a meaning and become totally lost. As I kept reading I got more and more used to the strangeness of the language and found that eventually (after two or three chapters) I slipped easily into the zone.
I realized just a few pages from the end that I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to these characters yet. It’s always a good sign when that happens! All in all it’s a solid, girly, summer read!
4 out of 5 Stars
The Rose Throne by Mette Ivie Harrison
Hardcover: 400 pages
Special thanks to EgmontUSA for my review copy!