A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigit Kemmerer was much better than A Curse So Dark and Lonely, but I still didn’t love it. In every way, this is not a book or a series I would ever bother to reread and as it stands I’m not even sure if I care to read the third novel that will obviously be on its way. One thing I’ve come to realize after reading both books in this series is that Kemmerer is decent-ish at being inclusive with disability and mental illness–she still has a ways to go with diversity–and has a fair amount of writing and plot ability but struggles immensely when it comes to the characters themselves.
To put this into perspective, I did not like A Curse So Dark and Lonely. I took issue with a lot of the themes and events in the novel and I genuinely couldn’t stand a single character with, perhaps, the exclusion of Grey (barely) and Noah. The characters were often either flat or unlikable in a rather disturbing way, which did not endear me to the story even a little bit. Ironically, in order to like A Heart So Fierce and Broken, I had to accept a lot of things I found annoying and stupid in the first book.
And yet, I find that I truly enjoyed a good portion of A Heart So Fierce and Broken. It feels like a wholly different story. And I appreciated that about this book. Admittedly, it is unsurprising to me that others didn’t enjoy this book for that exact same reason. You see, Harper was practically non-existent in this book. Which, frankly, was probably a good thing because she got even worse. I don’t know where this unconditional love for Rhen came from but after the things she watched him do and the complete utter lack of chemistry they had in the first book, I was really shocked that she stayed with him. It seemed somewhat inconsistent with her character.
Grey seemed much more immature in this book, which was incredibly frustrating to see since he had been a pillar in the first novel. I found I liked him less and less the more I read, but I never outright hated him as I had with characters in the first book. For the most part, I could buy this story and I did like many of the new characters at least marginally if nothing else. For me, the stark difference with this book when in comparison to the last was the fact that nobody really annoyed me. And that made a marked difference in the level that I enjoyed the story.
It was much less frustrating to be in the heads of characters that I could stand versus the horribly annoying ones from book one. Lia Mara was infinitely more interesting, more feminist, more developed, and just…more than Harper. Grey, while slightly less of a pillar of strength than he’d been in book one, was still likable. I wish he hadn’t become as immature, at times, but I can understand it somewhat. I also really liked the kid, Tycho, just for his personality. Everyone else was meh, but not annoying.
But overall? There was very little worthwhile about it.
The one piece of the story that I did deeply appreciate was the inclusion of PTSD. As I said, Kemmerer is great at being inclusive in ways that I truly don’t see enough authors doing because I don’t think I’ve ever seen PTSD referenced in a fantasy novel. And here it was. Admittedly, I think she went a bit far with it and the portrayal of Rhen wasn’t entirely accurate to fully write a character with this particular illness, but it was there which was amazing to me. Still, it wasn’t developed how it should have been. Frankly, Kemmerer rushed it and made several decisions that resulted in the concept of Rhen having PTSD suddenly seemed unrealistic. I think she needed more time and more research.
Of course, Kemmerer still likes to include immensely stupid plot points for shock value and so just as she did with A Curse So Dark and Lonely we get an incredibly idiotic and unfathomably improbable twist at the end of this one. While the dumb and annoying plot twist from the first book was at least reasonably realistic if still trope-ish and ludicrous, the twist in this one is so insensible that I spent a good twenty minutes after it thinking…what?
People with PTSD avoid, avoid, avoid, avoid triggers for obvious reasons. So, what Rhen was made to do at the end was…dumb, just so dumb.