Once Upon a Broken Heart
Grade : C-

Is there anything more heartbreaking than discovering a book you hoped to love isn’t all that? Stephanie Garber is capable of writing a genuinely satisfying fantasy with sweet romance and a sense of magic. Once Upon a Broken Heart (OUABH for short, which I realize sounds like a shady agency from Stranger Things) is not such a book.

Evangeline Fox needs a prince, not to marry her but to stop a marriage. Her beloved boyfriend Luc is set to wed her (possibly wicked) stepsister. Evangeline believes Luc has been coerced through a curse (pardon the rhyming and alliteration) and wants the Fate known as Jacks, the Prince of Hearts, to intervene. On the wedding day she attends Jacks’ church and bargains: he’ll stop the wedding if she agrees to kiss any person at his direction three separate times in the future. Deal. Jacks’s solution is “turning everyone [at the nuptials] to stone.” Evangeline immediately repents and through the nuances of magic frees everyone by turning herself into a block of rock. No worries! She gets saved after a short time and finds herself famous as “Valenda’s Sweetheart Savior”. She’s then charged by the empress (Scarlett of the Caraval series) with being emissary to “the Magnificent North”, where that land’s Prince Apollo is about to choose a bride. Honestly, you could make a drinking game of all the potential Inciting Incidents in the first seventy pages.

Evangeline is Special, which we only learn the same way we’d learn a half-drunk, bleary-eyed, irate guy in a grocery store is a Noble of an Aristocratic House: because other people tell us she is. Inanimate objects whisper portentous things to Evangeline, and she’s got pink hair like the girl mentioned in the North’s Big Prophecy. Jacks, the Prince of Hearts, instead of being intriguingly enigmatic is frustratingly distant. We know more about the fabric of his clothes than the fabric of the man. He tosses an apple a lot and looks alluring. Perhaps he’s a secret relative of Edward Cullen? As for poor Prince Apollo, perhaps we’ll discover who he is once he’s had time to detox from all the drugs/spells he’s been given/put under by the other characters. Presumably he’ll recover soon enough to be a more active player in the love triangle Garber’s obviously setting up.

Garber has the flair of a writer of TV drama and can pen a ‘Wait, what happens next?’ chapter ending that Shonda Rhimes would appreciate. There are so many cliffhangers within the story that you need a parachute to survive them all. Unfortunately, either the resolution of the Problem du Jour usually happens quickly or the outcome of the Big Surprise proves underwhelming and by the midpoint of the book hanging off the cliff starts to feel, if possible, dull.

Most irritatingly, OUABH, which is crammed full of plot mysteries the way an overzealous texter’s queries are followed by seventeen question marks, refuses to solve any of them. It’s natural that, as a series starter, OUABH would leave much unresolved to lure readers on to book two, but this doesn’t feel like the first book in a series, it feels like the first part of a book. Why?????????????????

The story is clearly trying to make some profound observations about love and what authentic love – romantic and familial – is, as when Evangeline has the revelation that “Luc wasn’t her weakness—love was. Not even just love but the idea of it.” But this first book is all about finding real love through the process of elimination – revealing all the fraudulent loves first so you can identify the genuine article, and by the end of the book there’s the sense that the story itself is missing a heart.

OUABH couldn’t stand alone if it was cemented upright. If you’ve read Caraval, which featured Jacks in a much more dynamic role and introduced the world with great panache, then OUABH becomes just understandable and interesting enough to finish. In the end, this book shouldn’t make you abandon Garber’s literary universe - it should just inspire you to seek out the better parts of it.

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Reviewed by Charlotte Elliott
Grade : C-
Book Type: Young Adult

Sensuality: N/A

Review Date : December 7, 2021

Publication Date: 09/2021

Recent Comments …

  1. I really enjoyed Elsie Silver’s Chestnut Springs series. My favorite was Reckless, because I adored the hero. I am looking…

Charlotte Elliott

Part-time cowgirl, part-time city girl. Always working on converting all my friends into romance readers ("Charlotte, that was the raunchiest thing I have ever read!").
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