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?
Or so goes the official summary. Luckily, the two princesses never see themselves as rivals, or set themselves up to kill the other one. Ailsbet is a princess in the court of her vicious tyrant father, struggling to stay alive and help save the country however she can. Marissa is a princess in the more peaceful, greener northern lands, sent south by her father to marry Ailsbet's brother and hopefully unite the two kingdoms, for the peace of them both. But Ailsbet's father never really intended peace, and when he discovers that an Ekhono, a man with "feminine" magic or a woman with "masculine" magic, is hiding in his court, he's determined to do anything it takes to rout them out... even if that Ekhono happens to be his own daughter.
The book's magic system is rich and fascinating. It's split into two kinds of power -- taweyr, the masculine magic, used for violence, for hunting, for thrills and lust and death, and neweyr, the feminine magic, used for controlling plants and other natural, quiet, healing things. Those who have the "wrong" magic (like one of her heroines, who has masculine magic) are persecuted, considered vile abominations who stole the rightful magic of others. It sets up an interesting exploration of the division between "masculine" and "feminine," especially as we have one traditionally feminine, kind (if slightly spoiled and naive) heroine, and one more "masculine," distant, dignified and passionate heroine, both of whom need to figure out where their strengths lie and what they want their lives to be. The book frequently discusses a prophecy of how the two types of magic will be reunited, and although my initial assumption that it would become a love story between the two princesses did not pan out, the exploration of the friendship between the two girls and of the importance of each kind of magic was compelling.
Unfortunately, the writing didn't live up to the world-building potential. Although the book was a quick and easy read, the writing always made me feel somewhat distant from the characters and the story. I didn't feel I had enough time to properly connect with any of the protagonists. My biggest problem was with the book's big romance, as the two characters went from barely knowing each other to being in a tragic doomed love without anything in between, making me wonder if I'd somehow missed the chapter where they had a private conversation and decided to even start liking one another. The pacing of the novel also felt off, like it came to a conclusion without enough build-up or development beforehand... but I did love many things about the ending, and the interesting magic system and unusual protagonists were enough to keep my interest right until the end.
If you're looking for some light YA fantasy with some interesting feminist ideas, it's worth giving this one a chance. It's just the sort of thing for a long plane ride or dipping into on the subway -- interesting and undemanding, if not living up to its own potential.
I received a copy of The Rose Throne from Egmont and Netgalley for review.