My toxic trait is that I love cruel morally-gray characters, which is why I picked up Once Upon a Broken Heart. This story is a spin-off of Stephanie Garber’s first series Caraval, and it’s the first time we meet a man named Jacks. He was one of the few things I like about that series, and his presence in Once Upon a Broken Heart lured me in again. As this book is a continuation of another series, some spoilers can’t be avoided so skip the summary if you wish to discover Jacks’ secrets for yourself.
Do you believe in love and happily ever after? Evangeline Fox does. And it’s this belief that makes her desperate enough to pray to a powerful Fate called the Prince of Hearts. The world doesn’t make sense anymore since Luc, Evangeline’s beloved, decided to marry her step-sister. All Evangeline needs is some help to stop the wedding, and the Prince of Hearts decides to lend her a helping hand, for a price. Evangeline owes the capricious immortal three kisses of his choosing which seems like a small ask to save her one true love. But the Fates are cruel beings that can never be trusted, and Evangeline is unknowingly set on a path to The Magnificent North and a future of betrayal and heartbreak.
A lot is left to be desired from our characters in this story. They are as flat as freshly printed pages of The Daily Rumor. This is quite a departure from the Caraval series where the protagonists had colorful personalities. However, I wonder if this was a purposeful choice because Garber’s prose feels much different in this story. There is not much to Evagenline, but it makes it easier to pull her through the fairytale tragedies unfolding around her. When I think of classic fairytales, the characters are pretty one-dimensional. Evangeline emulates this formula, and instead of possessing a robust personality, she is fueled by a desire to find love and a happy ending. By doing this, Garber shifts our focus from the characters to the tale being spelled out.
Even though I crave and seek character-driven stories, I still enjoyed my time with Once Upon a Broken Heart. Garber’s writing has evolved since her first series. Her first three books had imaginative and interesting elements, but I struggled with the messy plot and couldn’t make sense of where the story wanted to go. A lot of those unwieldy elements got buttoned up in Evangeline’s tale. The moments and trials she experiences flow nicely and are built upon one another to craft a cohesive plot. Some characters and portions of this story were predictable in many ways, but I was still delighted by a twist and turn every now and then. This book doesn’t feel as loud as Garber’s other work, but I can sense that the story is building up, and I am optimistic about the second book.
One thing I absolutely adore about Garber is her emphasis on clothing. She doesn’t go overboard with descriptions, but she creates a beautiful image by sharing a few, purposeful details of how characters show up in a scene. Even someone like me who prefers a more masculine style was gushing over a budding flower trellis skirt and a dragon-scale gown the color of rubies. Don’t get me started on Jacks’ simple but calculated ensembles as he shows up in artful, yet disheveled states of dress just to break my heart a fraction more. Garber knows how to put together an outfit, and it makes me wish I could draw so I could somehow bring these images to life.
I am okay with Once Upon a Broken Heart not having the deepest characters or the most intricate plot. I still enjoyed this story, and yes, I even liked the parts without Jacks. Not every book has to upend your world, and I appreciate that Stephanie Garber can help me escape reality for a while by luring me in with cruel smiles and a little magic.
Review: Once Upon a Broken Heart – 6.5/10