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This is everything you could ask of a sequel to A Curse So Dark and Lonely, and then some. Readers are returned to the well-formed world of Emberfall and its neighbouring territory of Syhl Shallow, where political ambition and newly revealed secrets threaten Rhen’s crown, and where intriguing new characters take centre stage. Among these is Lia Mara, eldest daughter of Syhl Shallow’s Queen. Lia Mara has been overlooked as heir to the throne in favour of her beautiful younger sister and, in many ways, the driving message of this tale belongs to Lia, a wise, compassionate young woman who’s “used to being underestimated”, but stands her ground in the name of doing the right thing. While Prince Rhen has been freed from the curse of the malevolent enchantress Lilith, his kingdom is now subject to new threats. Rhen’s loyal right hand man, Commander Grey, has gone, assumed dead, and there are rumours that Rhen’s secret half-brother is about to lay claim to the Emberfall throne. In hiding rather than dead, Grey encounters Lia and accompanies her to Syhl Shallow. Handsome and powerful, he would make a fine husband for Lia’s younger sister, but his heart is elsewhere. The enthralling story of political struggle is thrillingly laced with conflicts of the heart - both romantic and familial - to create a satisfying feast of YA fantasy fiction, with a cliff-hanger climax that suggests a yet more explosive third installment is on its way.
Masterfully melding the contemporary world with a richly evoked fantasy realm, this is a fairy tale re-telling of the finest order. Harper has lived a tough life, what with her mom being sick and her brother forced to take on their absent father’s violent debt collection work. She has cerebral palsy but “can move quickly when I want to”. She’s a fighter too, so when she’s snatched by a stranger and deposited in Ironrose Castle, in the heart of a parallel realm called Emberfall, her captors are thrown off-guard. “Most of the girls Grey drags from her world won’t touch a blade or a bridle,” Prince Rhen observes with admiration. And Rhen has seen plenty of girls in his time. Blighted by a curse inflicted by a spurned enchantress, he’s forever fixed at the age of eighteen until someone truly falls for him. This curse has seen his kingdom all but disintegrate and many die and, if he fails with Harper, Rhen will be “condemned to spend eternity as a monster.” With Harper adamant she’s not going to fall for him and Rhen certain the curse will never be broken, they make a pact: “I’ll help you save your country and you’ll help me get home,” Harper agrees. The road ahead is paved with pulse-quickening perils, alongside Harper’s tortuous conflict between love for her family and doing the right thing in Emberfall, not to mention her growing feelings for Rhen. There’s a tangible frisson between them, but is it love? As time ticks on and the powers of the malevolent enchantress heighten, worlds collide to take the stakes even higher. Replete as it is with romance, relatable coming-of-age conflicts and all-out action, fans of Cassandra Clare, Marissa Meyer and Sarah J. Maas will relish this novel, the first in the Cursebreakers series, and its cliffhanger climax will leave readers aching for the sequel.