Hello, friends! This review contains very mild, very vague spoilers.
I hope you’re all having a fantastic Sunday! Some highlights from my weekend have included making Orangette’s amazing caramel blondie recipe, laughing/crying at Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me, and getting into the Christmas spirit with playlists and gift guides (it’s never too early, y’all!!)
I’m taking a break from eating raw cookie dough and avoiding essays, though, to pop in here with a book review! I’ve been in a fantasy, fairytale mood as of late, and so today we’re going to take a look at Julie C. Dao’s Broken Wish, the first book in a new series. Let’s get to it!
1865. Hanau, Germany.
Sixteen-year-old Elva has a secret. She has visions and strange powers that she will do anything to hide. She knows the warnings about what happens to witches in their small village of Hanau. She’s heard the terrible things people say about the Witch of the North Woods, and the malicious hunts that follow. But when Elva accidentally witnesses a devastating vision of the future, she decides she has to do everything she can to prevent it. Tapping into her powers for the first time, Elva discovers a magical mirror and its owner—none other than the Witch of the North Woods herself. As Elva learns more about her burgeoning magic, and the lines between hero and villain start to blur, she must find a way to right past wrongs before it’s too late.
Julie C. Dao is one of my favorite authors of recent years! Her books often reimagine folklore, imbuing classic tales with new takes on unsettled magic and complicated love. So, it’s fitting that she wrote Broken Wish, the first in a series of four books to be written by four different YA writers, with each installment taking place in a different time period but all dealing with the same family curse. I thought the novel was an exciting, Grimm-inspired kickoff to the venture, and it felt perfect for the autumn season!
Though it features superstitions, witch-trials, and false pretenses galore, Broken Wish is simultaneously such a cozy, warm book. Dao’s characters show their love for one another through baked goods (I approve!) and the novel’s sensory descriptions of molasses cookies, ginger cakes, and steaming tea are truly lovely. The settings, descriptions, and character relationships are where the book shines. Overall, Broken Wish is the literary equivalent of a delightful fall bonfire (with magical s’mores!)
Dao has had great success in writing protagonists with diverse personalities. Her debut novel, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, chronicled the rise of a ruthless, fascinating queen, Xifeng, who couldn’t be more different than Broken Wish’s perpetually optimistic Elva. Yet Dao excelled in writing both girls; I loved the fact that Elva grew as a character without losing her positive, genuine nature. Dao’s books feature women who are outwardly strong, inwardly brave, and everything in between, and I’m here for it. Feminist fairytales rule.
On that note, Broken Wish honors classic folklore, but it also celebrates people who don’t fall under historic fairytale archetypes. One of my favorite characters in the book was Cay, Elva’s younger brother who adores embroidery, exploration, and farm work. His versatile personality reflects one of Broken Wish’s strengths: the novel finds humanity in characters whom traditional fairytales may have been left one-dimensional.
I say cheers to complex witches, heroines, sorceresses, and mortals, yes?