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320 pages, Hardcover
First published October 6, 2020
"Where magic gives, it can also take--in ways that no one can foresee."I've enjoyed tremendously every book I've read by Julie Dao, so when I saw that she had a new one out, the first of a four-book series where each is written by a different author (how unusual), I was intrigued. I confess I snatched it up so fast I almost got whiplash.
✨Where magic gives, it can also take—in ways that no one can foresee.
“I knew from a young age that I wanted to become a great witch… But I also knew that if I did, I would have to give up the world.”
As a child, when she had asked her mother if fairy tales were real, her mother had replied: "Truth of a tale lies in where it took its first breath."
– Interesting dynamics between complex women and girls
– Elva's unflinching kindness and goodness
– Mathilda is easy to empathize with
– Solid storytelling
– Lovely sensory details
– Slow start / beginning doesn't grab you
– Dao's writing style is clunky and rough around the edges
– Romance between Elva and Willem is a hard sell
– Predictable at times
(Thank you to NetGalley and Disney Hyperion for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review!)
1848: Agnes and Oskar have recently moved to the little town of Hanau, Germany, escaping the stigma surrounding Oskar, who grew up a bastard. Agnes has befriended their shy neighbour through the exchange of letters and goods, despite Oskar's disapproval and gossip that Mathilda is a witch. Overjoyed with her new friend, the lonely Mathilda offers Agnes a concoction to cure her infertility. In exchange, she asks Agnes promise to remain her friend. Agnes takes the concoction, but between nosy neighbours and Oskar's fear Hanau will shun them, she stops responding to Mathilda's letters. Shortly after, Agnes finds herself pregnant and that Mathilda, heartbroken, has moved deep in the North Woods.
1865: Elva, daughter of Agnes, sees helpful visions in reflective surfaces. At her parents behest, she has hidden and avoided her abilities. Between catching a vision of a dreadful storm wrecking her family's farm, her mother's insistence that a curse plagues the family, and discovering letters between Agnes and a woman who might be the witch of North Woods, Elva seeks out Mathilda for magical aide.
Something really cool about The Mirror series is that's it's generational saga about a family curse, told over four volumes by four different authors of colour. In this regard, Broken Wish reminded me a little of R.L. Stine's Fear Saga, but like, if the central forces of the story were the power of kindness and female friendship, and not gore and vile humanity.
Dao does a good job building the tension up over the length of the story. We've seen this type of story before, so we KNOW something bad's going to happen, but between Mathilda's loneliness and Elva's steadfast warm heart, it's easy to root for the best possible outcome. Dao's also provided ample evidence for both the fearful villagers and for the goodness in people to come out on top. We see how Agnes has raised her children to be kind and doggedly reject gossip and how Elva's powers are occasionally celebrated, but we also hear the empty-headed gossip about Mathilda and how quick people assign blame to her.
Broken Wish's weakest point was the beginning. It's not a poor start, but it goes on a bit too long and it's hard to attach ourselves to Agnes when we know she's not the main character. Also, given Agnes and Mathilda's exchange of letters combined with Elva's ability to see into the past, Dao could easily work these parts into the book as it went along.
Dao's done a solid job on the setting. Some food and clothing choices seemed intentionally vague, but her grasp of daily life and descriptions of the area sold the place and time period.
Although the story opens with Agnes, it is Elva and Mathilda at the heart of Broken Wish.
Mathilda is a bitter woman with a closed heart. Time and time again, society has proven she cannot trust it. At best, people will use her for their own gain while keeping her at a distance. At worst, they will hunt and condemn her to death. After Agnes broke her promise to remain friends, Mathilda packed up and retreated deep into the North Woods, hiding herself behind walls of both the emotional and magical sort.
Elva is furiously kind and deeply good-hearted. Her ability to see into the future means she has something in common with Mathilda that Agnes didn't, and she wants to believe she can use this ability to bring happiness and prevent strife. Don't make the mistake of confusing Elva for a pushover: Elva is determined and willing to do what needs doing. She slowly cracks open the shell around Mathilda's heart with her unrelenting kindness and steadfast belief in others,
I found Mathilda to be more relatable than Elva or Agnes, but then again, I was the Weird Kid in school growing up. While she opened up at a realistic pace, her behaviour was too polarized. It felt more Bitter Mathilda and Open Mathilda were two completely different characters, rather than one character after different experiences.
Elva isn't as dynamic a character as Mathilda, but she does a great job as our main POV character: she's likeable and she gets things done. Her character arc is steady, believable, and the end of it reveals her greatest flaw in such a perfect and painful way.
Dao's greatest strength in all her characters is easily establishing their motivations and letting those motivations drive the characters in a way that is both clean and straightforward, but not heavy-handed.
Elva's romance with Willem is a tricky thing. They have their ups and downs, and Dao certainly describes Willem in a swoon-worthy manner, but Broken Wish isn't a book you read for the romance, like, say, The Wrath and the Dawn. Their romance is a subplot and it functions like one. You want it to work out for them because Elva is a good person you want good things for, but Willem isn't one of those guys who gets assigned "book boyfriend" status. Sorry, romance fans.
Writing Style—★★☆☆☆ (2.5 Stars)
Broken Wish is told in third person, past tense from primarily Elva's point of view, but also features Agnes', Mathilda's, and Cay's points of views at various points in the book.
Honestly, Dao's writing style is disappointingly amateurish for an author who's written four or more books now. It's awkward, it's clunky, it's just getting the job done. It's like watching someone cutting soft, fresh bread with a butter knife. Or a surgeon using a hammer instead of a scalpel. A bit embarrassing, since free programs (example: ProWritingAid) can pinpoint most of the issues—like redundant and filler words—and help fix them. 2020 might be a mess, but your prose doesn't have to be!
However, it's unfair to categorize it as all bad. Dao is still a solid storyteller and focuses on the right elements in her scenes and always keeps things moving forward. Additionally, she does a lovely job with sensory details and recurring thematic elements.
Themes and Representation—★★★★☆
Broken Wish centers on the power of kindness, openness and understanding vs stigma, lies, and the push for conformity through fear of rejection. Dao handles the war of these elements superbly, and with a tidy execution. I've brought up the other elements a few times, so I find it important to touch on the battle of openness vs lying here, mainly how nothing good happens when a character intentionally lies to another, even with good intent. Agnes takes Mathilda's cure for her infertility and promises to remain her friend, knowing she intends to break that promise. Elva lies to her parents, telling them Mathilda can take away her powers. Likewise, Mathilda can't find a true friend until she tells the truth about some of the nasty little things she's done to protect herself in the past.
Given the time period and setting, there isn't much room for a dearth of representation, but Dao deals with the core parts—like the ostracism of anyone different, particularly unusual women—quite well, and does include lesbian supporting characters in Mathilda's past and Asian characters in the background. There's also Cay, Elva's younger brother, who's interested in hobbies which weren't traditionally masculine, such as embroidery.
Overall—★★★★☆ (3.5 Stars)
Fans of dark fairytale-style stories; mentor-mentee dynamics; steadfastly kind and good main characters.
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