Review: Once Upon a Broken Heart

Once Upon a Broken Heart is the first in a new series by Stephanie Garber, though still set in the world of Caraval, her previous trilogy. It takes place shortly after the events of that trilogy, and does feature the prominent return of Jacks, the dubious Prince of Hearts, but stands on its own relatively well. I would still recommend reading the original series first, that way you can have all the information available on the elaborate world-building and Jacks’s backstory, but it’s not absolutely necessary if you’re okay letting a few references go over your head; the plot itself if independent of the other series. This story follows Evangeline Fox, a young woman who makes a questionable deal with the Prince of Hearts after the boy she loves becomes engaged to her stepsister, a turn of events Evangeline believes could have only been caused by a curse. Evangeline’s deal doesn’t turn out the way she expects and she soon realizes Jacks has bigger plans for her—but will these plans bring her new love, or shatter what’s left of her heart?

Like Caraval, this book is full of mysterious magic. I love the sense of it, but I have to remind myself to be patient with Garber when it comes to the payoff/explanation because she does not like to show her cards early, and sometimes she only tells you what you really have to know. Fortunately, Once Upon a Broken Heart is fast-paced, so being patient isn’t hard. I still want more information on this mysterious north country Evangeline travels to, where history and myth are indistinguishable because various stories are cursed to never be told outside the country, or to have the endings forgotten halfway through the telling, or suffer other inconvenient flaws in the retelling. It would appear at least some of that information might be coming in the next book. I hope so, at least.

As a protagonist, I would say Evangeline falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between Garber’s previous heroines. She’s more like Tella in her desire to at least try to take action, but her attitude is definitely more of a hopeless romantic, like Scarlett. It would seem some reviewers find her optimism naive and annoying, but I enjoyed her, and I wanted her to be right about things, even when I was pretty confident she wasn’t.

It’s hard to judge this one when I know there’s so much more to be revealed in the sequel, but right now I’m giving it 3.5 stars as I eagerly await the next book, The Ballad of Never After.

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