A Heart So Fierce and Broken – Brigid Kemmerer [Book Review]

a heart soThe curse is broken. Harper has remained in Emberfall with her brother Jake and his boyfriend, Noah, and with Rhen. With no sign of Grey, rumours of another heir threatening to break the kingdom apart, added to the fact people believe the alliance with ‘Disi’ is a scam, something must be done.

Grey has killed the enchantress Lilith and returned to Emberfall, but with a secret he is unable to share with Rhen, he goes into hiding, taking on the name ‘Hawk’ and working at a tournament ground, staying as hidden as he possibly can.

Look, I’m going to be honest. I was completely and utterly revved up for this book. I don’t often pre-order books, but I did for this one, cause damn was I keen on returning to Emberfall.

Unfortunately, this is one of those sequels that makes you wish the original was a standalone.

I gave this 4*s on Goodreads because Kemmerer’s writing is, in all fairness, fantastic – it’s vivid and beautiful. And the last third of the book had me hooked, but before that…

Well it took a while to get into this one.

The book starts with Harper, then shifts into two POVs which take over for the novel – Grey and Lia Mara, the eldest daughter of Karis Luran but not the heir, that honour going to her sister, instead. And that’s where I felt like the book let me down first. Karis Luran enters Emberfall with her daughters, keen to marry off her heir to Rhen and forge an alliance with Emberfall.

For a lot of the book, I found Lia Mara to be overly whiny and woe-is-me. She’s not helpless, at all, but every other sentence was about how her sister is stronger and how her sister is going to be queen and how she doesn’t match up to her sister and mother. I think a lot of her, especially in earlier chapters, felt forced, too. Like there were moments that felt less relevant to the plot, and there only so we could have some slight reason to like her.

She had some strong moments, but these were overshadowed by the really annoying ones. And then there is Grey. Although I didn’t fully buy into the idea of a love triangle in A Curse So Dark and Lonely, it was evident here, and felt like there was going to be a bit of a build up between Harper and Grey. But nope, we’re quickly whisked away from Harper almost as soon as we get a tiny glimpse of her.

The romance between Grey and Lia Mara, again, felt a little forced. Grey remains one of my favourite characters, but so much of this book was him – and yep, again – whining. Following motions and never really doing much of anything until he was backed into a corner. I liked the way he did react to certain situations, as it’s clear he’s still very much a guardsman, and once more, a lot of the issues I found in the first half disappeared in the second.

Regarding Rhen and Harper now. In A Curse, I absolutely loved the three characters who formed the focus on the book. Harper was a strong, powerful woman who did not put up with anything untoward from either Grey or Rhen. Rhen was troubled and tortured and desperate to do anything to save his kingdom, and throughout the novel it really felt like he grew as a character.

We get none of that growth in this book, none of Harper’s fierceness. Every time we see her, she’s running to greet one of the men in her life or blushing under Grey’s praise. She basically lets Rhen torture people, she sits back while his kingdom is falling to pieces around him because he’s too stubborn to do really consider any option except kill. There are moments near the start of the book where Grey could have actually spoken to Rhen, but they all decide that nope, dying is the best option so let’s just get this over with!

Okay! Things I liked, because I did like a few things. I liked the relationship between Lia Mara and her sister. I liked the additional characters we meet in this novel, and the way the discord among the populace is shown. We also get to see more magic here, used in much better ways, and it works well.

This book isn’t as good as A Curse So Dark and Lonely, which felt more natural in terms of plot progression, character development and the choices made by the characters. Instead, we have two intelligent characters who go around in circles seeming to make life more difficult for themselves, making it feel like everything they do is in service to the plot rather than the world around them. The writing remains beautiful, and Kemmerer clearly has a way with words, but unfortunately the two main characters we follow in this book have less of an impact than both Harper and Rhen, two characters thrust aside for the sequel, whose presence could have made this book that much stronger.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely – Brigid Kemmerer [Review]

a curse so darkI read this book immediately after The Queen of Nothing, hoping it would fill the hole left by Holly Black’s fantastic end to an amazing trilogy. And it did…but after finishing it, that hole now feels twice as big. Luckily, this series is still ongoing, and the sequel is out in January, so seems like I read it at the right time.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely  is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, with a slight modern twist. Prince Rhen is cursed to repeat the same season, over and over, transforming into a beast at the end and slaughtering everyone in his path, unless he can find a girl to fall in love with him. By the time we meet him, he barely knows of anything happening outside his cursed castle, and the only person left at his side is the commander of his Royal Guard, Grey.

After trying to find a woman among his own people, Rhen turns to Grey, and Grey is granted the ability – from the same enchantress who cursed them – to cross to the ‘other side’ at the start of every season.

Mistakes and errors lead Grey to taking Harper from Washington, DC to Emberfall. Harper doesn’t want to be there, she doesn’t want to deal with princes and guards and enchanted instruments – she wants to know her brother and her mother are safe, with her brother working for a loan shark to pay off their father’s debts, and her mother suffering from cancer.

I was completely and utterly gripped by the story, right from the very first page. The world painted is vivid, though it is dark and dangerous there are spots of warmth to be found, even with an eerie, empty castle. The characters are complex and interesting, each with their own issues to work through and trying to cope with the situations they find themselves in.

To me, Harper felt like a really strong character, one determined to do the right thing, even at risk to herself, and as she maneuvers through this world, learning about politics and royalty and other things she’s never had to think about before, she shows herself to be kind and endearing, considerate and strong-willed, and those aspects combined endear her to everyone around her.

There’s a very slight almost love triangle, but it never really grows into anything. There’s the potential of feelings between Harper and Grey, but that aspect is more played on when it comes to Rhen, watching them interact and seeing something deeper than what’s happening before him.

The aspect of Rhen being a beast some of the time, and the beast never being the same twice, was one I really liked – it added tension and uncertainty, as there was never any way to plan for what could happen.

I also really liked the interactions between him and Harper. Although she is kidnapped and forced to remain in Emberfall, so much of what happens between her and Rhen is about trust. There’s no insta-love here, but two wounded, defensive people trying to work around one another, approaching each other slowly and carefully, each as like as the other to take simple words or gestures the wrong way.

Although it is a retelling, there is little too predictable about the book, and it brings together elements of the fairytale well, while also mixing things up so nothing here feels overly familiar or overdone.

I really enjoyed the slow burn aspect to their relationship, and loved the way it unfolded. Overall, this is a really strong novel, one I could barely put down, and definitely worth checking out if you haven’t done so already.