Once Upon a Broken Heart is the Caraval spinoff of our dreams

Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber. Image courtesy Flatiron Books
Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber. Image courtesy Flatiron Books /

It’s difficult for an author to craft a successful follow-up to any popular fiction series, let alone one as popular as Stephanie Garber’s Caraval trilogy. The bestselling saga of Scarlett and Donatella Dragna would always be hard to top, so it’s good news that Garber doesn’t try to do so in her latest novel, Once Upon a Broken Heart. The story, which is set in the same world of Fates and magic as her Caraval series, feels like something entirely new, a magical confectionery mix of love, messy choices, and dreams of happy endings.

A fast-paced read that goes down like the best sort of treat, it’s very likely you’ll tear through this story in a day or so, and its cliffhanger ending will leave you both wondering what will happen next and unsure of what you even want the answer to that question to be. Garber’s worldbuilding remains lush and inviting, crafting a cold Northern landscape teeming with magic and history that feels worlds away from the settings in her earlier novels.

Once Upon a Broken Heart is also the rare spinoff series that works as well for newbies to Garber’s novels as it does for die-hard Carval fans. Sure, there are some references to characters and events from the previous novels – and you’ll definitely enter this book with a better understanding of the whole “Fates as a vague kind of religion” thing that forms much of the frame for this book. But those aren’t anything new readers can’t grasp quickly and the hints of unknown backstories largely feeling intriguing rather than annoying.

Once Upon a Broken Heart is a magical fantasy that’s hard to put down

The story follows Evangeline Fox, a girl who grew up working in her late father’s curiosity shop and drinking in the fairytale-like stories of her late mother’s homeland in the Magnificent North. So when the love of her life suddenly becomes engaged to another girl – and her stepsister no less! – despite the fact that they’ve never really talked before, Evangeline is convinced that Luc has been cursed or put under some sort of spell. Desperate to stop the wedding, she turns to a dangerous Fate for help, the tragic Prince of Hearts known as Jacks. She knows that bargains with him rarely end well, but she nevertheless promises to trade three kisses for his aid.

Naturally, Jacks’s help proves the source of a whole new set of problems, which will ultimately send Evangeline on a journey that will change her life forever. She must travel to the Magnificent North of her favorite childhood stories to attend Nocte Neverending, a ball that won’t end until the dashing Prince Apollo finds a bride. Evangeline thinks it just might be her chance at a real happily ever after of her own, but the Prince of Hearts isn’t through with her quite yet.

Evangeline makes for an utterly charming heroine, a mix of almost too twee to be believed physical traits (she literally has pink hair) and messy emotions. She’s a good person at heart, but a hopeless romantic, and desperate to believe in fairytales and an infinite possibility of happy endings for everyone. Yet, she’s also reckless and rash, and makes plenty of poor choices along the way. (Including the very deal with a Fate that kicks off the story.)

Jacks is the sort of heartbroken, snarky, morally gray prince with a secret we’ve seen in a lot of YA fantasy stories – I know there are a ton of Caraval fans who love him, however, and there’s plenty here for them to swoon over – but Once Upon a Broken Heart is at his most interesting when it’s exploring the world of the Fates he inhabits, and introducing us to more  of their kind. You’ll likely finish this book unsure of how to feel about him – whether he’s someone who can be trusted, whether we’re meant to ship him with Evangeline or hope she stays far away from the prophecy he wants her to help him fulfill. And that’s okay – it’s what sequels are for, after all!

Fall 2021 is full of great options for fantasy lovers, but Once Upon a Broken Heart is one of the season’s most appealing, thanks to its constantly churning plot, its real sense of adventure, and the lovely heroine at the center of the story. Here’s to seeing where Evangeline’s journey takes her next.

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Once Upon a Broken Heart is available now. Let us know if you’re going to give it a look!