A Heart So Fierce and Broken isn’t what we expected and that’s great

Photo: A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer.. Image Courtesy Bloomsbury Children's Books
Photo: A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer.. Image Courtesy Bloomsbury Children's Books /

The second installment in Brigid Kemmerer’s Cursebreakers trilogy, A Heart So Fierce and Broken isn’t at all what we expected it to be. And that’s a good thing.

Everyone loves a sequel. Who doesn’t want to see a story that thrilled them get a second chapter. But best kinds of sequels do much more than simply continue a story, they make us look at the one that came before it. Brigid Kemmerer’s A Heart So Fierce and Broken is such a follow-up. One which doesn’t continue the original story in anything like the way we might have initially expected. And it is all the better for it.

The first book in Kemmerer’s Cursebreakers Trilogy, A Curse so Dark and Lonely, was a fairly straightforward Beauty and the Beast retelling. Well told, yes, and beautifully written, featuring a tortured prince, a steadfast guard and a modern girl with cerebral palsy rather than a dreamy fantasy princess. But still, at the end of the day, it’s based on a story we know. Prince Rhen and Harper’s love story feels real and earned, of course, but what happens after the curse is broken?

Well, now we know. And’s probably not what anyone expected. But that’s not a bad thing.

Yes, A Heart So Fierce  continues many of the plotlines begun in Curse so Dark. Grey’s still trying to process the knowledge that he may secretly be the heir to the throne of Emberfall. Rhen’s still struggling with the fallout from the brutal curse that had him in its clutches for years. And Harper is maintaining the fiction that she’s a princess from a land known as Disi, here to form an alliance with Rhen’s kingdom. Everyone’s got lots of guilt, varying degrees of PTSD and the big question is – what’s next?

Well, new perspectives for one thing. In a somewhat shocking twist, Kemmerer chooses to essentially drop Rhen and Harper as POV characters for this second installment, replacing them with Grey and new addition Lia Mara, one of the princesses of neighboring (and possibly enemy) kingdom of Syhl Shallow.

Some fans probably won’t like the sharp shift in perspective, the significantly reduced role for Harper, and the fact that Rhen….well, Rhen makes some fairly horrifying choices here. But Heart So Fierce makes the story so much broader, so much more complicated and so much more tragic than its predecessor ever imagined.

This book manages to do several things that feel impossible, over the course of its 400+ pages. First, it greatly expands the world of the Cursebreakers story. In A Curse So Dark we spent most of our time at Ironrose Castle, with occasional trips to that one random inn up the road. In Heart So Fierce we journey through multiple kingdoms, visit several distinct towns and meet loads of new and different kinds of people. For the first time, we really get to see the impact that Rhen’s curse had on his kingdom and his subjects outside of and away from Ironrose and its surrounding environs. We learn more about magic, and why some people trust it and others fear it. And we meet so many different kinds of people – and even creatures – along the way.

A Heart So Fierce manages to make almost everyone sympathetic to some degree, whether you’re rooting for Emberfall or Syhl Shallow or Rhen or Grey. (Except possibly Karis Luran. She’s still pretty horrible throughout.) These are fully fleshed out three-dimensional figures – people who make mistakes, who make rash choices and hold grudges and refuse to talk to one another when they should. And their relationships are as equally messy and real. Everything, even the stuff that’s mostly heartbreaking and awful, all makes sense. It’s just such a well told story, and pushes the Cursebreakers world forward in new ways.

So often in trilogies, the book in the middle often suffers from having to serve as both a bridge and a placeholder. It has to move the story forward, but not too much. It can’t have a clear ending, because the larger story isn’t over yet. That’s certainly not the case here – the story of A Heart So Fierce roars forward from the very first page, pushing unrelentingly toward an ending that feels both inevitable and shocking at the same time.

It’s difficult to guess where the story will go in the trilogy’s conclusion. Will there be a completely new set of POV characters? Will return to Rhen and Harper? Or will the story be a four-hander between all four perspectives we’ve seen so far? And, probably more importantly, who are we meant to root for her? Can there even be a true winner in a situation like this? Is it possible for everyone to get what they want? Or to find something like happiness? Is the only way forward to watch a character we care about lose? We’ll have to wait and see. But I, for one, can’t wait to find out how Kemmerer will manage to conclude this tale.

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A Heart So Fierce and Broken is available now. Let us know if you’ve finished it yet, and what you’re hoping for from the sequel!