A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Readers can compare the magical world here -- that includes dangerous potions and spells, beings with god-like powers, bloodletting, and vampires -- with magic from other fantasies.
Messages about bravery and choosing your own path. On the negative side, all the big romantic moments are paired with some kind of damsel-in-distress violence -- the female hero is injured and saved and wooed, then ignored until the next violence against her.
Positive Role Models
Like in the first book, Evangeline continues to be a character so taken with figuring out her own heart that she allows herself to be treated poorly. She's tempted by the "bad boy/tortured soul" figure named Jacks who is controlling and aloof and secretive and she spends much of the book trying to figure him out. She gets saved by Jacks many times and takes it as a hint that he cares for her, easily dismissing his other behaviors, including his literal magical power to control people's thoughts and actions when he wants to.
Violence & Scariness
A death by stabbing after a knife fight and another from a vampire bite. Arrow wounds, a stab wound, and painful lashes to back, all healed with magic. Some sexual violence: A passionate kiss turns into a near-strangulation from a man controlled by a curse; a girl dressed in only a slip writhes in a bed, fighting new-vampire urges to drink blood, with a man lying on top of her, holding her down. Stories of a royal family who were all killed, their heads chopped off; a man killing another man out of jealousy; another where a hunter is cursed to hunt and kill the woman he loves; and another story of someone getting their throat ripped out by a monster.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
One passionate kiss -- before it turns into violence with a near-strangulation from a man controlled by a curse. There's also groping, kisses on the neck, a hand up a skirt, clothes slowly removed to address injuries, and a couple sleeps together without having sex.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Some drinking of cider, wine, and mead at parties. And the 17-year-old main character walks into a party and starts to drink heavily to calm down after an argument, just after telling herself she shouldn't.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Ballad of Never After is the sequel to Once Upon a Broken Heart, a spin-off of the popular Caraval trilogy by Stephanie Garber. Expect the same level of violence in this sequel. There are a few deaths -- one by stabbing and another from a vampire bite -- and some injuries from arrows, knives, and lashes to the back that are all healed with magic. Of note is the escalation of sexual violence. There's a passionate kiss that turns into a near-strangulation from a man controlled by a curse, and the main character, Evangeline, dressed only in a slip, writhes in a bed, fighting new-vampire urges to drink blood, with a man lying on top of her, holding her down. In fact, all of the romance has an edge of malice to it that's well worth discussing with teen romance fans who are just starting relationships of their own. Evangeline is tempted by a "bad boy/tortured soul" figure named Jacks who is controlling and aloof and secretive and she spends much of the book trying to figure him out. She gets saved by Jacks many times and takes it as a hint that he cares for her, easily dismissing his other behaviors, including his literal magical power to control peoples' thoughts and actions when he wants to. After an argument with Jacks, 17-year-old Evangeline drinks heavily at a party after telling herself she shouldn't.
Is It Any Good?
This fantasy-romance is lacking character appeal and exciting world building and overstuffed with damsel-in-distress moments. To build the romantic storyline, The Ballad of Never After actually relies completely on action scenes where the main character, Evangeline, almost dies and Jacks, the hot but emotionally distant immortal, must swoop in to save her and then tells her what to do -- hide out here, run away here, don't go here. Instead of propelling the reader forward toward new revelations about the characters, it keeps the pair in a destructive pattern you wouldn't want for anyone's relationship. It doesn't matter how well Jacks dresses or leans into a wall with a smoldering glance, he needs to open up already. Evangeline gives up power to him again and again, even though she's the one with the power to open the arch or not and the one who can sense the magic stones she must gather.
On the world-building front, The Ballad of Never After is a disappointment. After the Caraval Trilogy that brings us to this series, we know what author Stephanie Garber is capable of. The mysteries just aren't as thrilling or twisty-turny or as carefully plotted out. There's an archway with unknown magic on the other side and magic stones to find before the door will open. There are curses, on Evangeline's prince and also one about storytelling and houses of power at war with themselves. There's even a baby dragon that just shows up for breakfast, hangs out, goes away. It all feels like filler until the next damsel-in-distress emergency. If only more of the immortal Fates entered the story and more of their secrets were revealed. If only the engagement party at the house full of weaponry had a bit more intrigue, a few more colorful characters, and didn't focus so heavily on Evangeline's jealousy or ball gowns. Let's just start with the dragon. Maybe it's important to the sequel and will help fly the series in a better direction.
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