Princess Ailsbet was born without magic, hates the court, and loves music more than anything else in life. Though she would love to have friends and marry someone she likes, she's been burned a few too many times by people who only pretend to like being around her to trust anyone easily. Marlissa, on the other hand, has plentiful magic and is loved by her people. She, too, dreams of marrying for love and eventually taking the throne, but it's a man's world, and she, like Ailsbet, must abide by the kings' wishes.
It isn't every day that I get to read books that are so strongly feminist (in a good way) it makes me want to smack someone, anyone, while reading. The world that the two princesses live in is one governed by men, where the queens and princesses hardly have a say in anything, and the people with no magic are merely used strategically for trade or diplomacy. And the girls knew what was going on and desired more for themselves (and their gender). I was frustrated for them!
Ailsbet, without any magic of her own, thought she was on her way to being an ambassador or similar for her kingdom. She had pretty much accepted that about her life, though she wanted to get out and just play music without having to worry about politics or kingdoms or anything else. Eventually, we learn that Ailsbet isn't all that she seems, and a few people around her can sense it, too.
Marlissa has the gift that allows her to be in touch with nature. She nurtures the greenery around her castle and teaches people how to use their own magic. She can grow plants in an instant and, if left unchecked, who knows what her limits are? But her life takes a complete turn when she's informed of her own betrothal with Ailsbet's younger brother, the prince of the rivaling kingdom.
Some of the things that stood out with this book:
a) The author isn't afraid to be gruesome while avoiding getting too gory. There is a lot of death in this book, and it's kind of tragic in a way. I don't think it's a bad thing, though. In the end, the often brutal killings made me hate the "bad guys" more, and got me really wound up with the princesses.
b) Though eventually I understood the concepts, in the beginning of the book I was very confused with the different kinds of magic that were introduced for the story. In The Rose Throne, the men generally have one brand of magic, and the women another (people who have the "wrong" kind of magic are generally cast aside). One kingdom embraces both, while the other favors the men's magic. The crux of the plot (beyond romance), is that some people wish the two magics to be reunited: that two people can produce an heir that would wield both.
c) The story wound up to the conclusion a little too quickly compared with the even pacing of the rest of the book, and the ending was abrupt. I almost thought that I'd gotten a corrupted file that cut off a few chapters early, but I saw the end script and knew I'd really come to the last page. It leaves me wanting to know what happens, but it didn't feel like a book ending. It's a good thing this book is part of a series!
d) On to another positive note: I liked that chapters were always in the perspective of either of the main girls. Most of the time, the chapters were in complete chronological order. Other times, we'd read something in the perspective of one princess that occurred in the past of the other. I like this sort of thing, because it gives me a timeline of what each was doing without reading the story from the "outside." Their inner dialogue was interesting to read, since perspectives were such a big theme in the story.
Overall, I recommend The Rose Throne, but it isn't for everyone. I can't imagine most teenage boys would be interested in the story, for one thing, and again - this isn't your normal "princess story." It's definitely a story about love and trying to do well, but it's also a story about women whose futures are generally decided for them by their fathers, though they have the ability to become powerful influences in the sway of politics in the background. I feel that Harrison got a good start with this story here, even if this book didn't meet the absolute, fullest potential the story had.
This book was released on May 14th, 2013 and I received a review copy for Kindle via Netgalley.