Once Upon A Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber (OUABH #1)
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Release Date: September 28, 2021
Available through Bookshop & The Book Depository
Cover artist: Erin Fitzsimmons
Summary: How far would you go for happily ever after? For as long as she can remember, Evangeline Fox has believed in true love and happy endings…until she learns that the love of her life will marry another. Desperate to stop the wedding and to heal her wounded heart, Evangeline strikes a deal with the charismatic but wicked Prince of Hearts. In exchange for his help, he asks for three kisses, to be given at the time and place of his choosing. But after Evangeline’s first promised kiss, she learns that bargaining with an immortal is a dangerous game—and that the Prince of Hearts wants far more from her than she’d pledged. He has plans for Evangeline, plans that will either end in the greatest happily ever after or the most exquisite tragedy…
My Rating: ★★★☆☆ ¾
My Thoughts: Once Upon A Broken Heart reads a successor and spin-off to the Caraval series following Evangeline Fox, whose belief in fairytales, true love and the like leads her to forging a deal with Jacks, the alluring immortal Prince of Hearts! The engaging pace of the story, alongside the fairytale-like structure pulls the reader into the secrets that Evangeline unravels, alongside the mystery and signature Garber romance that keeps you turning the page, eager to connect every thread!
Can genuinely say that this is the first time Booktok convinced me to give this series a chance and although I personally had no interest after the disappointing, frankly forgettable ending that was Finale, what fascinated me the most was ― with so many other young adult / YA fantasy series out there, what captivated readers with such allure & enchantment?? I had to know…and okay out of all the characters in Garber’s initial Caraval series Jacks was probably the only character I’d still read about…but more on that later in this review!
Giving Garber credit because for a supposed spin-off and as a writer myself, with how she began the new series through its introduction, it was crafted in a way quite easy to be immersed into, even with the prior knowledge adding to the reading experience for those who’ve read the Caraval books, those who’ve never read her initial trilogy can effortlessly dive into OUABH.
Hopeless romantic, at times naïve main character Evangeline Fox is the perspective of which we experience this new series not only at the story’s starting point in her initial hometown, but even as we follow her journey to the Magical North kingdom where a majority of the story’s action and driving plot takes place. Despite my upcoming criticisms, what compelled me the most about Evangeline’s character was how Garber’s creation of her was used as a way to weave a foundational theme of OUABH surrounding HEA’s, happier conclusions and what one is willing to risk to find love, in a fairytale-like fashion. True to it’s title, the nature of this novel intends to be structured as a fairytale with familiar tropes and elements from castles to princes, balls, fable stories, step family, pretty dresses, easy to understand backstory, Evangeline and her signature rose gold/pink hair, its all “whimsical” and weird in a way, but it works with the story that’s being told. Though at times it can benefit from more foundational details.
Evangeline is a curiosity shopkeeper’s daughter who finds herself desperate to heal her broken heart when she learns her love, Luc Navarro, is about to marry her stepsister Marisol. So she turns to the Prince Of Hearts chapel to seek comfort and perhaps a solution to this dire situation of hers. In forming a pact with the mischievous Jacks, he asks for 3 kisses of his choosing while at the same time Evangeline embarks on her own journey of self-identity in a way to reach the fairytale ending she so desperately craves. What follows after this lethal bargain is that Evangeline sacrifices herself quite early on in the novel to be turned to stone upon seeing Jack’s rightfully fair exchange when it comes to the magical costs of her pact with stopping Marisol’s wedding. Despite months passing, Evangeline awakens and becomes an overnight media darling in her home town / country and Marisol takes on a “cursed” image. Marisol’s character did surprise me more than I thought, because her strength was how supportive she was to Evangeline, even though she’s no longer in a popular light, she broke the typical evil stepsister mold which can often be cliche, but here Garber made her feel like a more fleshed out sort of archetype.
With Evangeline’s new-found fame, the royals want her to represent them at Nocte Neverending, a ball where the Prince Apollo will choose his bride. The new start is a much needed one for both sisters, but more-so for Evangeline who is looking to move past her lost love. Though upon Jack’s return after the Fates escape to the North, he tells her she has to marry Apollo though she begins to feel uncomfortable with the fact that he’s under spell and may not actually love her. This leads to a grander mystery of who poisons the prince and how exactly is Evangeline connected to this prophecy of the Valory Arch. There’s also this scene with vampires but honestly this was one of the more interesting parts of the book in my opinion!
Before delving into deeper critiques as to how this 3 star (well 3.75 star rating) came about, if you know Jacks from the initial series, he’s an alluring sort of character with his many colored apples and general suave persona but he’s also a Fate, an immortal with magical powers. What instantly hooked me to this book from the beginning was Jack’s introduction early on his character naturally fit into this new story (and I found it fascinating how Garber wove the initial ending of the first series into the first few chapters of this novel, it added to the one-of-a-kind charm compared to other series). Jack’s witty remarks and charm brought a much needed energy to this novel to the at times stagnant plot, yet it felt like there were plenty of opportunities for Garber to elaborate on these new plot threads of the series if he were present more or in general find a way to keep him in a more central role to the plot. (No joke I literally kept track of where in the story Jacks had vanished in the beginning to the next point [about 40 pages later] where he returned because I was only reading this book for him). Though nearing the latter half of the novel, his charm became rather predictable and found myself losing that interest that was so present in the beginning of the novel (I also happened to be reading another YA romance at the time and in comparing the two, felt this novel could have benefitted from slower-paced scenes or more in general to spend time with Jack’s character to flesh him out much better).
Garber’s prose to me reads much easier here than in her initial series (where she was known for her synaesthesiae-like descriptions) however, this may be one of the harsher pieces of critique I have for these books (which speaks to my confusion at how this series, compared to so many other YA fantasy series that are frankly written with much more finesse, is rated so highly)…where the novel attempts to be lyrical and frankly trade reviews give the writing WAAAY too much credit, Garber’s prose suffers in its simplicity and how hollow the descriptions ring upon turning the page. The characters can come across as surface level, one dimensional and the writing style feels as though its there to build up aesthetics instead of offering grander examination into the worldbuilding or take risks outside of the conventional fantasy tropes. More on the worldbuilding, this can also include the magic system, now I don’t mean it has to be an incredibly in-depth, extensive sort but through the text Garber seems to have a fairly simple, convenient moments for specific things the magic can do (like when it comes to curses, Jacks powers, etc.) where it doesn’t feel concretely established in any sort of way to me, leaving me at a distance. Pair that with the surface-level setting descriptors, I’m left picturing an almost shallow world as though its on some stage. A similar issue I had with Garber’s previous series was despite the interesting concept, I couldn’t actually tell you any concrete details or memorable attributing features about the setting itself. This was at the forefront of my mind the more I pieced the story together with each chapter. Where there was no deep connection to this world, I couldn’t help but compare to the plethora of other frankly better crafted YA fantasy series I’ve read in recent years from The Brilliant Death to Nocturna, among others where the faintest threads of the world feel much more tangible and deeply explored.
Now the romance, look I had high hopes that the relationship developing between Jacks & Evangeline would have some sort of pay off, but honestly they had way too few scenes together where the dynamic never felt well established. Since there were many moments when Evangeline was left to do things on her own and Apollo was shoehorned in as a second love interest, it felt like a lot of page-time towards Apollo & Evangeline could have gone towards her & Jacks instead to further develop the slowburn relationship. I think more open dialogue between the pair have offered a much better emotional payoff when the plot so blatantly showed this tension! I think that’s why the scene where Evangeline stayed to comfort Jacks to make sure he wouldn’t turn into a vampire was probably my favorite scene between them, they actually had page-time for a conversation.
Evangeline is a fairly easy character to read from and I think that’s what’s compelled so many to read this series, the author does make it apparent that this is meant to be a fairytale-esque sort of YA where the hope for a happy ending and true love is attainable which I acutally enjoyed. However, at times Evangeline herself can feel like an inactive sort of one-note character, so I hope to see her development the most if or when I get around the reading the sequel.
Mystery is an underlying part of the plot as Evangeline sets out to figure out the truth whether Marisol was responsible for putting her former love Luc under a spell, what is Jacks planning with the Valory Arch, is there a connection to Jacks and Evangeline with the telling of The Archer & The Fox? So many questions this first book introduces yet the lack of fanfare for many of these left this first installment missing way too many answers almost deceptively left out for the following books: The Ballad Of Never After and the forthcoming conclusion A Curse For True Love. While I’m sure the answers will be provided I felt like Jack’s motivation, more background to Marisol’s motives and the grander plot of the Arch could have had just a few more details to add more closure to this first book.
The ending despite its rushed conclusion does keep me invested to see where the left hanging plot threads are headed, especially if one theory I have about Jacks & Evangeline is true (about the Archer & Fox connection there)
Once Upon A Broken Heart compels readers with a heroine obsessed with fairytales to embark on one of her own! Full of romance, mystery, and adventures that hint at grander plots in the future installments of the series, this was an enjoyable series opener! Despite issues with the prose and worldbuilding, the novel is easy to be immersed into and you’ll be intrigued to uncover all the pieces.
Have you read OUABH? What did you think of the plot? Did you enjoy this new series in the world of Caraval or was there anything you felt was missing? Let’s chat!
I’m also giving a shout-out to fellow blogger review: Andge from Down The Rabbit Hole’s review where she delves into the characters and how much she enjoyed this first installment. I remember initially reading her review and the enthusiasm left me so intrigued about the character arcs and the deeper layers there! Also recommend Chonkybooks review for a detailed review that explores the decisions the characters make among what made the book easy to get into.
4 thoughts on “Once Upon A Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber Review”
Great review! Your analysis of the book is so detailed and it was really nice to read – it reminded me of a lot of details from this book that I’ve forgotten since I read it. Hope you enjoy the sequel, I found it to be an amazing read, much better than Once Upon A Broken Heart!
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I appreciate that so much Raji, thanks! ❤ With this book I felt like I hardly remembered a lot of details, so I'm glad you felt that way about my analysis 😂 You know, I may be picking up the sequel soon because I've heard its fantastic & I've avoided most spoilers, so very intrigued to see if my opinions change too! Thanks for reading!! 💕
great review!! i really loved this book but i don’t think it compares to caraval (which is like my second personality)
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this one had lots of great ideas, but the execution felt rather off to me 😅 ahh so glad you loved the original books, I remember really enjoying the first two! thanks so much for reading Chelsea ❤