Once Upon A Broken Heart Book Review
Updated: Sep 8, 2022
Anyone who's interacted with us or, hell, kept up with our content outside the blog (*cough* follow us on social media *cough, cough* subscribe to our newsletter) knows what major fairytale nerds Kori and I are. So I was ecstatic to receive this very fairytale-esque edition of Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber as part of the Broken Hearts theme from Fairyloot.
Genre: YA Fantasy Romance
Category: Candy Book
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RATING: 2/5 Stars
Plot: 1/5 stars
Characters: 2/5 stars
World: 3/5 stars
A spinoff from the widely popular Caraval trilogy, Once Upon a Broken Heart follows a periphery character Jacks, a Fate whose kiss is deadly to all but his destined true love (whom he will purportedly spend eternity searching for) and an all-new protagonist Evangeline, a small-town orphan who grew up running a magical curiosity shop with her father.
It doesn't take much to pique my interest when it comes to fairytale elements. So despite not liking Caraval or reading the next two installments, I was eager to try this book after the description hit all the right notes.
Fool me twice . . .
I spent forever trying to make sense of this plot. Vaguely fairytale aspects that weren't fleshed out at all were smooshed with a childlike fever dream and topped with an overdramatic soap opera cherry.
NOTE: I apologize for how spoilery this review will be, but I know not how else to process my thoughts on this book. If you wish to avoid spoilers, please skip ahead to the character and world sections!
The story begins well enough with a broken-hearted Evangeline locating a magical door that only reveals itself to desperate souls like herself. She stumbles into a church and calls upon a Fate, the Prince of Broken Hearts.
Fates are capricious creatures who act as gods in this world; making a deal with them is akin to making a deal with a fae: it never ends well. Evangeline knows this, yet strikes a deal with Jacks: she must kiss three people of Jacks' choosing in exchange for him stopping the wedding between her lover Luc and stepsister Marisol, as Evangeline is certain Luc is cursed.
From this point forward, things get really weird and confusing. I'll . . . do my best.
Jacks stops the wedding, but by turning everyone to stone. Evangeline is horrified; Jacks points to a chalice of poison and tells her she can save everyone by turning herself to stone (How? Why? We'll never know). Evangeline drinks.
Six weeks later, she awakens to the Fate Poison, who has cured her (compliments of Jacks, we're later told). Following her glorious return, she's famous for saving her family and has to beat off unwanted suitors vying for the hero of Valenda.
Luc, however, was severely injured by a pack of wolves and has disappeared (???). Oh, and Evangeline missed out on the Week of Terror, wherein all the Fates returned to the world and, uh, rained chaos upon the land (How? Why? We'll never know).
After an indeterminable amount of time moping, Evangeline is called to the palace by the Empress (the protagonist of Caraval), where she's asked to attend Nocte Neverending in the Empress's stead (because Evangeline is a hero?).
Her mother had told her all about Nocte Neverending. [. . .] Secret ballrooms were built for it in forests where fallen stars had once landed, leaving everything laced with bits of enchantment. [. . .] every night during Nocte Neverending, the current crown prince would watch from a hidden location until he picked five ladies to dance with. Night after night, he'd follow the same routine, watching and then asking ladies to dance until he found the perfect bride.
Okay, a little cheesy, but sounds magical enough. There's hope, right?
Evangeline skips off to the Magnificent North (no joke, that's what it's called) with her stepsister who is now brokenhearted over the same boy (Luc, supposedly off in the world horrifically scarred and maybe still cursed—RIP to my homie). There, the hero of Valenda and Cursed Bride attend the lovely night ball, where Evangeline is immediately smitten with the sullen prince Apollo and hopes she'll be his chosen princess.
Which indeed happens. After Jacks forces her to kiss the prince and Apollo jumps from clearly disinterested to suddenly, all-consumingly in love.
And Evangeline is shocked, nay scandalized, when she [way too much later] discovers Jacks placed a spell on her new fiancé.
Now she couldn't help but wonder: Was Jacks the reason for this engagement? What if the blood Jacks had painted on her lips had infused her kiss with magic that made Apollo fall in love with her?
She didn't want to think it. [. . .] But if Jacks had done something to Apollo, it would explain Apollo's over-the-top behavior.
After going through with the wedding in spite of Apollo's feelings not being real (because, ye know, giving up is so much easier than being a proactive main character), Jacks once again paints Evangeline's lips with blood and tells her the wedding night kiss will break the spell.
Except Apollo dies.
Jacks escapes the palace with Evangeline, who is poisoned to never stop crying (How? Why? We'll never know). After saving her, the Fate and bumbling damsel team up to track down Apollo's real killer—who is not, apparently, Jacks.
This involves, among other boring trips I'll skip over, a visit to a vampire den, the coolest part of the entire book—because they are real, murdery vampires.
They were actually in a balcony overlooking a small amphitheater [. . .] where a gathering of vampires and humans stood on a massive black-and-white checkered board.
[. . .] Evangeline's hands clutched the marble rail as she watched the vampires cross the checkered floor in blurs of speed. Bloodred collided with white as each vampire found a human.
Nice! In two more cool twists, Jacks is bitten and shall become a murdery vampire if he tastes blood before dawn and—what ho! There's Luc! In a cage! He traveled to the North to be turned into a vampire and rid of his hideous scars. And he was cursed!
"I didn't realize it until tonight, until the vampire venom was in me and suddenly my head cleared. [. . .] All I know was that your stepsister was all that I could think about. She was the reason I came here—I needed to be perfect for her. After I got mauled by the wolf, my scars weren't sexy scars—"
Hold up, what?
O-okay, so Luc gets left behind as a vampire (RIP to this fucking dude). Jacks averts vampirism by not biting Evangeline, despite getting all seductive and lick-y for a moment (don't ask).
Are we to the end yet? No? FFS, bear with me.
Evangeline pulls Classic Damsel Trope #1 and rushes off to the palace to save the day on her own—with no help or plan. She tracks down her stepsister who is set to marry Apollo's brother, who shall inherit the crown.
And Evangeline is shocked, nay scandalized, when she learns her stepsister is behind all the cursing and poisonings! Despite literally everyone asking her from the beginning, "Dude, are you sure it's not your stepsister?"
"If your stepsister is reading that [spell] book, I would agree with Jacks. She is far from helpless, and she is probably up to something."
ANY-WHO, Evangeline miraculously saves the day by giving the spell's cure to Apollo's brother—by placing the vial in the room and just hoping he'll drink it.
And he does! In the middle of his villain speech!
"How did this get in here?" [. . .] He picked up the bottle with two fingers and brought it toward the fire.
[. . .] But instead of throwing it in, the bottle worked its magic. Tiberius stopped, took another look at the concoction, popped the cork with his mouth, and drank.
You can't make this shit up.
Crisis averted. The guards apprehend the stepsister and reinstate Evangeline as princess—effective immediately; she's just in charge of the kingdom now. Huzzah?
Since she's now the savior, the royal soldiers beckon her to a hidden passage, where awaits—
DUN, DUN, DUN!
Apollo was lying down on his back, but he didn't look right. He didn't look alive.
[. . .] "Apollo is in a suspended state."
[. . .] "We've been trying to revive him, but we think that you might be the only person who can bring him back."
For those who skipped over the plot (don't blame you), the main character is beyond gullible and childish. I get being sheltered, optimistic, and having your head in the clouds. But after repeated reminders as to why she shouldn't trust everyone around her, Evangeline is still appalled by any deviation from purity. In addition, she passively bumbles along the entire book, pushed and prodded by everyone who has more of a clue than she does.
Standing out from the two-dimensional cast is Jacks, who is (thankfully) precisely who he says he is: wicked, cruel, sarcastic, manipulative, and selfish. There's a hint of a broken heart under his harsh exterior, which we all know is candy for readers looking for a layered antihero.
Sadly, he isn't the focus of this book. If he'd been the protagonist rather than Evangeline, I might've given the book more stars.
While the world sounds whimsical and full of cozy fairytale vibes, the book never delves beneath the surface. There are pretty castles, fantastical foods and potions, sentient objects, and immortal Fates with magical powers—
That's pretty much it. It feels as though the magic system was made up on the fly, with barely-there rules and hazy allusions that are never quite pinned down. I wanted to know more about the lands, the creatures, the customs. The world didn't need comprehensive lore, but I wish something had set it apart from, well . . . Disneyland?
Though the cute, fairytale atmosphere and Jacks' snark and hilarious quips pulled me through to the end, I just could not get on board with the airheaded protagonist and nonsensical plot. I came away from this book disappointed at the lost aesthetics and frankly unsure of what I just read.
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