Recommended: I’m not the first to say YES!
For fantastic rep of a character with a disability who is not defined solely by it, for a story that breaks from tropes early on, for situations that are morally grey and grapple with right and wrong
Fall in love, break the curse. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, Rhen knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But who will fall in love with – or even survive – the vicious beast that he turns into at the end of each season? His family and people were the first to fall, and now his kingdom is close behind. Harper hardly seems like the one to save Emberfall as she handles her mother dying, her brother forced to serve a thug, and her cerebral palsy. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world. As she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.
I was thinking recently about how hard it is to find books with characters who have a disability where the book isn’t focused all about how they have a disability. You know, books where they’re still just people, rather than “that guy with Autism.” And then I picked this up, and lo and behold, here’s my answer to that gripe. This isn’t even a main part of the story, but I absolutely loved the way Harper’s cerebral palsy was worked into the story as an aspect of her rather than as defining her entirely.
It was hard not to hear about this book, because so many people were talking about it for so long. And to be honest, that made me steer clear of it, because I don’t trust the hype and it will often make the book feel disappointing if my expectations are inflated. I also avoided it because it was largely branded as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Having now read it, I can’t believe that’s how anyone would describe it, because while there are obvious parallels, there is SO much more to this world and story. Calling it a retelling is misleading, and does it no justice.
The plot takes a sharp left early on, and I was delighted to see that happen. Harper’s boldness is a delight, as is the subtle way it’s addressed that she’s accustomed to being viewed — by herself as well as the rest of the world — as someone who can’t take care of herself. Watching her take control of things so brilliantly made me feel so proud you would think I was her own mother.
I also appreciate that while love is, in a way, at the center of the story, it is far more than a story of “boy and girl fall in love.” It felt more real, in that whispers of love swirl around as the characters live their lives near each other and work towards common goals, as they learn about each other.
So, yes, I was far behind the times on reading this book. But ultimately I feel like I am far luckier than all those who read this early on, because I didn’t have to wait to start reading A Heart So Fierce and Broken. 😁