‘A Heart so Fierce and Broken’ by Brigid Kemmerer is everything YA fantasy should be

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“A Heart So Fierce and Broken” is Brigid Kemmerer’s second book, following “A Curse So Dark and Lonely,” a tale of Beauty and the Beast reimagined with lots of violence and a heartstopping ending. It was the story of Rhen, the prince cursed to turn into a beast, and Harper, the tough young girl who is determined to save Rhen and his kingdom, Emberfall. Grey is the loyal Guardsman who risks his life repeatedly to save them.

In this second story, Grey becomes the pivotal character with a new character, Lia Mara, the daughter of the cruel queen of Syhl Shallow, Karis Luran. Lia Mara is not destined to be queen; her sister is. Her sister can be cruel and harsh while Lia Mara prefers to use intellect and persuasion instead of brute strength and fear to create alliances.

Grey is the subject of a nation-wide search because he is suspected to be the real heir to the crown, something he never wanted but which has been thrust upon him. Is he the eldest son of the king from a marriage with a magesmith? Would Rhen kill him to ensure Rhen keeps his place as the next king?

Lia Mara goes to Ironrose Castle, where Rhen and Harper live, to try to negotiate a peace treaty between their countries which she hopes will forestall her mother’s intention of invading Emberfall. But Rhen does not believe that she has the power to negotiate on behalf of her mother, and she escapes with Grey after a brutal scene in which Grey and his loyal young friend are whipped.

Sometimes, second books in a series don’t provide much in the way of new plots or characters, but this trilogy is completely different. The story in the first book is the fairy tale retelling. This story is completely different. The relationship that Rhen and Grey build up in the first book is gone. Now Rhen looks with fear and anger on Grey for many reasons. Grey deserted him; Grey has magic; and Grey is the true legal heir to Emberfall.

The alternating narratives from Grey’s and Lia Mara’s points of view work well, and there is one narrative from Harper’s point of view at the beginning and one from Rhen’s at the end in which a new twist is revealed just before the story closes.

This is a sequel that must be read after the first book to be completely appreciated. Too much of what happens is dependent on events from the first book, and knowledge of those events is necessary in order to understand Grey’s relationship with Rhen.

Kemmerer’s writing techniques are exciting, involving, and quite addicting. The dialogue, especially the ways in which Kemmerer reveals her characters’ feelings and motives instead of “narrator-telling” is a reflection of her superb writing skills. She includes characters who illustrate very human flaws and problems: Harper, who limps because of cerebral palsy; Jacob (Harper’s brother) and his boyfriend Noah; and Lia Mara, who is not as superficially beautiful as her younger sister, the heir. There are surprises upon surprises as well as characters who we know are going to be important from the very beginning of the novel. All in all, it’s a lovely sequel, and readers will be preordering the third book as soon as possible.

Don’t miss “A Curse So Dark and Lonely” and “Call It What You Want” also by Brigid Kemmerer.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Bloomsbury, the publisher, for review purposes.

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