“In the morning, you can forget it. You can go back to pretending you don’t like me, and I can pretend that I don’t care. But for tonight, let me pretend you’re mine.”
What is The Ballad of Never After About?
The fiercely-anticipated sequel to the #1 New York Times bestseller Once Upon a Broken Heart, starring Evangeline Fox and the Prince of Hearts on a new journey of magic, mystery, and heartbreak.
Not every love is meant to be.
After Jacks, the Prince of Hearts, betrays her, Evangeline Fox swears she’ll never trust him again. Now that she’s discovered her own magic, Evangeline believes she can use it to restore the chance at happily ever after that Jacks stole away.
But when a new terrifying curse is revealed, Evangeline finds herself entering into a tenuous partnership with the Prince of Hearts again. Only this time, the rules have changed. Jacks isn’t the only force Evangeline needs to be wary of. In fact, he might be the only one she can trust, despite her desire to despise him.
Instead of a love spell wreaking havoc on Evangeline’s life, a murderous spell has been cast. To break it, Evangeline and Jacks will have to do battle with old friends, new foes, and a magic that plays with heads and hearts. Evangeline has always trusted her heart, but this time she’s not sure she can. . . .
A thank you to Ms. Kenney at Flat Iron Books for sending me an eARC copy of this book to review. As always, this does not affect my thoughts and my commentary remains honest.
Hello again dear reader or listener, I wish you a happy start to this week and today I offer up some ramblings on the sequel to Once Upon a Broken Heart, The Ballad of Never After. I’m gonna say this first, Ms. Garber sure knows how to pick her titles!
In case you’re not familiar with the author’s debut trilogy, Caraval, you should know that this new series is a spin-off of sorts dedicated to an antihero from that trilogy. While I am familiar with that series, I’m yet to read it, and, when I first read book one, I was told that you do not need to have read Caraval in order to understand the events of this new series. While this is mostly true, my main feeling throughout the whole of Once Upon a Broken Heart was that I was missing things and that I would’ve appreciated and understood way more of it had I read Caraval first. That said, the plot did stand on its own two feet and while I still had some reservations, I was looking forward to the sequel hoping to get answers to so many of the questions that came up.
I’m happy to say that The Ballad Never After was a way more satisfying read as it picks up all the threads that had been left loose by the end of book one and the recaps within were excellently done so as to not feel repetitive nor a waste of time. I felt less of that sense that I was missing something and got to enjoy what was happening way more because of it.
Now dear reader, here’s the thing. As I just mentioned, when I read book one I had a lot of misgivings, but I also quite liked the whimsical nature of the worldbuilding and the simplicity of the plot. Garber brings fairy tales to life, weaving so many of them together in wonderful and magical ways but giving them darker twists, something she continues to do in this book as well. So, I’m gonna be a little harsh at first to speed through what didn’t work for me and then tell you all the saving graces that kept me going.
Protagonist Evangeline, put bluntly, annoyed the hell out of me. She’s not a complete lost cause, as she is determined and brave and does try her best, all qualities that I appreciate, but let’s just say this is one of those times I could enjoy a read but continuously have to roll my eyes at a character. Perhaps because, aside from those redeeming aspects, Eva is the kind of gal I could never be, nor ever want to, frankly. She is naïve to a fault, stubbornly obtuse in her hope of making her life a living fairytale, pretty whiny at times and annoyingly hypocritical. Also, a bit of a Mary Sue, in her innocence and willingness to forgive and forget every damn thing. They literally tried to kill you, repeatedly, with curses!! But they apologized every time in between so that’s ok! Whereas the one character who does one wrong thing but with good intentions gets villainized into oblivion and you hate them. *Proceeds to facepalm into eternity*. Sadly, this all gets worse with book two and Eva is even more unlikable to me. For example, her back and forth between seeing Jacks act as her only protector, while continuously reminding herself that he is actually a villain that cannot be trusted (which, debatable tbh, but that requires spoilers) and even worse cared for, was after the nth time, irksome. However, I am also very aware that this is in fact a YA novel so this kind of angst is to be expected… Now I feel old.
Ok this turned into a bit of a rant. I’m sorry Evangeline, I just can’t deal with you being that much of a lovesick damsel in distress, or rather a distressing damsel, to quote the timeless Captain Jack Sparrow. Still, you try your best with the crap that you’re dealt, and that counts for something!
Let’s get back on track then.
Another aspect of this novel overall, that I didn’t entirely appreciate was its speed. Garber’s prose is easy to read as much as it is lyrical and evocative, and her metaphors, even when a little over the top, still render her imagery amazingly; after all, their flair does fit in with the overall vibe of this story. However, there were often times when events were skimmed over or the author would jump from one plot point to the next in the bat of an eye without much follow through for some aspects of the story where I would’ve appreciated some more context or fodder.
The main reason I kept at it though, was because of Jacks, our resident broody antihero, sometimes villain, who is too taken by his own drama to be anything other than a little shit with hidden depths and truck loads of past pain. In other words, one of my favorite type of characters. My drive to learn more about him and his secrets was what kept me reading because, let’s face it, Loki type characters are my jam. Also by this point, even if I don’t get any other answers at all, I just really need to know what the deal is with the damn apples he is always eating!
Garber’s worldbuilding and scene setting is indeed quite magical and I really quite enjoy when fairy tales are made darker. You could say the vibes are immaculate in that regard. Moreover, while the author may have been in a hurry to get to where she wanted to go at times, she did weave and unfold her main mystery that spans both books, quite well and in a way that kept me turning the page wanting to know more in the hopes of figuring the whole thing out. As for the general plot in this sequel, it is the standard quest to collect magical items all the while avoiding curses and barely trustworthy allies, while also delivering on many a beloved trope, like genuine convo while caring for wounds – what a classic.
Ultimately though the ending was a bit of a whirlwind, with some things coming out of nowhere while others giving me feels and with yet some more unexpected outcomes that I am still pondering. Now, I can’t really say more on the matter because Ms. Garber doesn’t want to reveal whether this is going to be a series or a duology yet, wanting to keep the mystery for a while longer, so I’ll respect that. It does become quite obvious once you reach the end of the story of course, but I’ll leave that for you to figure out dear reader or listener.
Until next time,
Eleni A. E.