Once Upon a Broken Heart
Some authors write one good book. Others write one good series. The occasional amazing author writes a plethora of novels that capture your attention and make you want to read them over and over again.
Unfortunately for me, Stephanie Garber is the second kind of author. Her first series, Caraval is filled with magic, worldbuilding, and an interesting plot. Though it isn't my favorite series by far (and I had some issues with it), it was a series I would read again and even put on my "book-wishlist."
Once Upon a Broken Heart, though interesting, didn't match up to the quality of her first series. In fact, it didn't match the standards of most books I read. I often found myself feeling like I was reading a book by a novice writer (yes, like myself!) rather than by an experienced writer with three other books published. The book had an average plot that was captivating enough for me to keep reading and want to read the next novel when it comes out. But the word choice and grammar present in the book was, for lack of better words, not up to code. It was the kind of thing I am working to fix in my own novel so that I can get it published (overuse of words for example). Here Garber was with the same mistakes as I make but her book was published. I found it irritating.
Despite that, I was drawn into Garber's world. The world of Once Upon a Broken Heart is actually the same world as Garber built for the Caraval novels. While I generally prefer worlds with more dark elements (to contrast the light), Garber's mystical, magical world is always enjoyable to enter for a time. It seems that anything can happen within the pages of her novels. On occasion, I have problems with this. There are few (if any) limitations to the magic in the novels. However, it does mean that there's a lot less predictability and a lot more excitement revolving around the magical aspects.
I do often get confused by the fates in these books. I would have loved to see more clarification about the fates since Jacks has returned with an even larger role in the book than he had last time. However, I am still left guessing. The fates seem to have limitations on their magic but I, as the reader, could never tell what they are. It often seems like the limitations are changing and shifting as the books go on. What can the fates do? I don't know. What can't they do? I'm unsure. What is the extent of their power? Do they even know themselves?
This confusion around the fates was present in the Caraval series as well, though and I was able to enjoy the series a lot more than I was Once Upon a Broken Heart. For me, the main issue with the book was the characters, particularly the protagonist. I struggled to fall for Evangeline because she was "floaty." She didn't seem to know what she wanted. Half the time, what she wanted was changing. Her personality was not developed well throughout the book. And she wasn't much of a go-getter. I like books with strong female protagonists that know what they want, strive to get it and learn something about themselves along the way. This was not that.
I also had issues with the beginning of the book. Garber spent much too long describing the deal between Evangeline and Jacks as well as the aftermath. The plot of the book revolved around Evangeline's journey to the north and Jacks calling in his side of the deal (three kisses) so the first part of the story could have been reduced greatly with no effect. This portion of the book added nothing and a lot of it was boring (ex. Evangeline standing alone in her bookstore).
So the book had a lot of flaws. It wasn't really for me but the plot was good enough to capture me and make me read the entire thing. I would pick up the second book at a library (though I wouldn't pay for it or put it on my shelf). I also would suggest it to others if I felt it was up their alley. If you really enjoyed Caraval and found the atmosphere of the book to be just what you were looking for, you might enjoy this book.
Books Like This: The Caraval Trilogy; House of Salt and Sorrows;