Once Upon A Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber

I have read a lot of fantasy.  Specifically, I have read a lot of YA fantasy.  Fantasy is one of the most popular genres with my students and after years and years of being asked for recommendations, I am certainly a well-read fan now.  

That being said, I first fell in love with Stephanie Garber when I read her debut novel, Caraval.  

I don’t really remember the details of the plot – I read it such a long time ago but from what I can recall, the story is rooted in a world in which the magical circus puts on a magical performance but the performance becomes more and more real as the plot goes along.  <Side note: It’s what I had expected from Erin Morgensen’s The Night Circus, which was a huge disappointment if you want my honest opinion of THAT book.  I digress.> 

What I do remember is that I was immediately drawn into the world of Caraval.  Her prose is completely engaging and her world building just tugs at the reader’s imagination.  So, when the sequel, Legendary came out, I was excited to read it.  However, the curse of the sequel struck. 

<Side note: stay tuned next week for a longer explanation of the “curse of the sequel”.> 

So in the end I was a little let down.  Once again, I can’t completely recall why I was let down but I think it had something to do with how the convoluted plot unfolded.  No longer was it a magical game to be played and won, but a world in turmoil where politics and power went hand in hand in a fight for dominance. (Or so I think.  Please take it with a grain of salt.)  What I do remember is that I was so disinterested in it that I didn’t even bother to read the third (and final) one in the series – aptly titled, Finale.

So when I saw she was coming out with a new series, I was skeptical to say the least.  However, I was intrigued enough to peruse the summary and it intrigued me.  It felt like more of a throwback to the original feel of Caraval and I kind of dug that.  I took the plunge and  requested the book in Netgalley.  But, having immediate buyer’s remorse (or requester’s remorse is more accurate), I immediately relegated it to my TBR where it lingered.  And lingered.  To say that my TBR has gotten out of control would also be a bit of an understatement, but during this summer vacation, I am making a concerted effort to work my way through the massively long list. 

 <Side note: It was massive.  At the height of my requesting frenzy, I was up to 43 books waiting to be read and reviewed.  Yes, I know I have a problem.  No, I’m not sorry!>

That’s not to say that when I got to this book, I didn’t breath a heavy sigh and say to myself, “Let’s get this over with” before diving in.  I never expected to feel anything for this book other than dread and a desperate need to finish it as fast as possible.  But… only half of that would end up being true and, frankly, I only finished it as fast as possible because I couldn’t put it down.  Seriously!

In Once Upon A Broken Heart, the Fates rule all as demigods and humans handle magic as an everyday occurrence. Tricks and plots abound.  Just when you think you know what is going to happen, there’s a wrench in the plans.  For those of you who have read Caraval, this exists within the same universe and you’ll definitely see (read?) some familiar faces.  SPOILERS ABOUND, so beware! 

Evangeline Fox is distraught.  The boy she loves is set to marry her stepsister after a whirlwind romance that she never even saw coming.  Sure that there must be a nefarious magical spell clouding his judgement, Evangeline rushes to the Prince of Hearts’ sanctuary to beg for his help.  The Prince of Hearts, known as Jacks, agrees to help her stop the wedding.  The price?  Three kisses that she will bestow at his command.  Not to him though, because his kisses only offer death if the willing lady is not his true love.  So no kissing for him.  

Jacks stops the wedding all right.  He does it by turning the entire wedding party into stone.  Shocked at what she’s done, Evangeline sacrifices her freedom and frees them from the curse that she brought upon them.  She turns herself to stone to free the others.  

When she is eventually rescued from her prison of stone, she tries to get back to her real life and ignore the deal she made with Jacks. She can’t seem to find her footing.  Her boyfriend (if you can call him that after he almost marries her stepsister) leaves town, her evil stepmother sells off her father’s beloved shop, and now that she’s back the whole town seems to want to celebrate her heroics of saving the wedding while Evangeline secretly tries to assuage her ever growing guilt over the deal she made.  

But when the Empress of the land offers her the chance of a lifetime – to travel to the North to represent their realm at a competition to win the hand of Prince Apollo.  For Evangeline whose mother was from the North and instilled in Evangeline a love for their stories of magic and folklore, this is a dream come true.  She immediately agrees.  For her, not only does this open up the possibility to connect with her roots and heal from her heartbreak and guilt but, if she does win the competition, she has a chance at true love and a true happily ever after.  And bonus, she’ll be able to avoid running into Jacks whom she hopes will never claim his due.  

As you may be able to imagine, Jacks has not forgotten about her, and instead shows up at the festival hoping to claim his prize to further his plans – not that he shares much of those plans.  He starts by instructing her to bestow the first kiss on Prince Apollo during their first one-on-one.  But, Evangeline starts having second thoughts after kissing Apollo when his entire reaction to her seems to make a complete one-eighty.  Not only does he turn from a cool, calculating royal into a warm doting “boyfriend” but he seems to be irresistibly drawn to her and almost instantaneously announces her as his bride.   Evangeline’s guilt rears its ugly head – telling her over and over that this isn’t real and how she could once again take a shortcut to what she so desperately desires – love.  She wants real love – not a love spell and begs Jacks to reverse whatever spell he’s cast over Apollo.  

From there comes the politicking and plotting – a lot having to do with a prophecy that dates to the founding of the North Kingdom and the founding rulers.  I was intrigued by the unfolding of the plot – including Jacks’ true endgame and Evangeline’s true identity.  Neither of which are resolved at the end of the novel – clearing the way for the sequel.  And while there were definitely plot points I foresaw, there were other surprises along the way – the sign of a great story!  

When I reached the end, I was astonished.  I couldn’t believe I had plowed through it as fast as I did. But even so, I wanted more!  In fact, I demand more!  The cliffhanger ending had me flipping pages wondering where the rest of the book was.  I cannot believe I now have to wait for the sequel!  Seriously. 

Hurry up, Stephanie Garber.  I can’t wait!

Once Upon A Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber, expected release date: September 28, 2021

<Side note: I don’t normally do this because I love supporting local indie bookstore, but for this book, I’m ordering the Barnes and Noble Special Edition. I’m a sucker for bonus stuff – like chapters from another POV and cool fanart. I really wish that publishers would do a special edition for indies too, but what can you do?>

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