The Ballad of Never After is the second book in the Once Upon a Broken Heart series. It tries to be an emotional story but fails.
About The Ballad of Never After
Author: Stephanie Garber
Series: Once Upon a Broken Heart Series
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, YA
Other works from the Author: Caraval Series
Page Number: 416
Audible Listening Time: 9 hours and 23 minutes
Goodreads Rating: 4.58/5
My Rating: 2.3/5
Evangeline Fox vowed to never trust Jacks the 'Prince of Heart' again. But when she discovers the possibility of happily ever after, she finds herself entering yet another bargain with Jacks. Her world suddenly expands into magical keys, mysterious doors and terrifying monsters. A love spell with a deadly curse attached to it may become the doom for her happily ever after. Evangeline and Jacks have to face some new and some old foes to break
I enjoyed the plot of The Ballad of Never After when I read it. But after reflecting on it, the story felt childish to be. After this book, I read Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson and that may have impacted how I see The Ballad of Never After now. The writing felt very immature in hindsight. The cheating trope included in this book also pissed me off while reading it. Even if Evangeline never had feelings for Apollo, her intimacy with Jacks even after being married to Apollo felt wrong on so many levels. I just hate this trope and can't root for the main couple in The Ballad of Never After.
This is also the reason why I was not really devasted after reading the ending. I never really cared about Evangeline and Jacks relationship that much from the start. So, the separation at the end of the book doesn't hit me as it did most readers.
I have to say I am not a fan of Evangeline's character. She refuses to grow up and stays naïve throughout the book. She just forgives everyone when they apologize. I was thinking "Get a backbone girl!" multiple times while reading The Ballad of Never After. Her need to make her life like a fairy tale makes her read like a teenager. But she is an adult in the book. Nothing will give the slightest hint that she is in fact an adult.
Normally I like such characters in a few other books but not this one. I tried really hard to like her. The last straw for me was her sleeping with Jacks. Stephanie Garber tried to make it romantic and sexy but the whole time I was thinking that she is married to Apollo. And he is under a curse that kills him if he doesn't kill Evangeline. He is struggling with his love for her and the compulsion to kill her while Evangeline is cheating on him with Jacks. This was romantic in the slightest to me.
Jacks is annoying too. He is a classic bad boy with magic. And I have had enough of those. He conceals key information from Evangeline when they are on a mission to fund a cure for a deadly curse. He then goes into a heartbroken mode when things go wrong. Dude! Just tell her. There is no justifiable reason to not tell Evangeline important information. His actions come across as plot holes. He is supposed to be the anti-hero but most of the time is just a gaslighter.
I liked his character at the climax of The Ballad of Never After. His sacrifice adds many possibilities to the story. If this book ended with them together I would have given it an even less rating. The fact that Evangeline will completely forget the existence of Jacks gives the story a soft reboot. Things could change for the better in the next book.
I liked Apollo's character the best in The Ballad of Never After. He was absent from most of the book. But he goes through the most changes in the shortest amount of page time he has been given. The shift from a reactive character to an evil one is fascinating. I loved the plot twist about his character at the end of the book. His need to keep Evangeline by his side by hiding everything about Jacks is a clever twist.
The worldbuilding doesn't expand much from Once Upon A Broken Heart in the series. I expected them to go to more places and introduce different types of creatures. But Stephanie Garber just recycled the old one and added mediocre sub-plots. I liked the scenes with Chaos. He adds much-needed diversity to the world of The Ballad of Never After. His being the ultimate monster that the Valory Arch was supposed to contain is the thing that saved this book for me.
The magic system is yet another disappointment in The Ballad of Never After. I expected Stephanie Garber to expand the magic more in this book but that, unfortunately, doesn't happen. The plot revolves around yet another curse that is very similar to the curse of Once Upon A Broken Heart. The story follows the same steps to explain and find a solution to the curse.
This time Stephanie Garber introduces the keys to open the Valory Arch aka the plot device that drives the magic system. I liked the magic of the Keys but they were found and collected way too soon. They were explored so little that I doubt they are even important to the plot. It was just something to do from Evangeline and Jacks to kill time.
The pacing is the most enjoyable thing in The Ballad of Never After. It was short and easy to read. You can finish this in one sitting if you are a moderately fast reader. Maybe that's why this book became interesting to so many people. I am glad it ended quickly. Even though The Ballad of Never After is short, the plot gives the protagonists too much time to do nothing but kill time.
I have to say I didn't enjoy The Ballad of Never After that much. I read many 5-star books last month and The Ballad of Never After just doesn't feel up to the mark. The story seemed childish and the characters felt comically naïve. Even the immortal beings felt like kids going through puberty. The fairytale-like setting feels magical to read in the first book but gets old really quickly when Stephanie Garber doesn't expand the world in any meaningful way.
The Ballad of Never After felt like it should have been a duology instead of a trilogy. Not much happens in this book. The same places are explored, the same characters were brought back and anything new introduced to the world were given the bare minimum of time to be important enough.
The Ballad of Never After was a huge disappointment. The character in this book reads like a middle-grade novel. Evangeline has no personality at all. She only cares about having a love story. I hated that this has a cheating trope. That too with two men of whom one tries to curse everything around her and another has only 2 minutes of interaction with her. Multiple people clearly tell her that they will kill her, but this girl still gets surprised when they actually try to kill her. Most of the characters devolve instead of evolving. Somehow Evangeline at the end of The Ballad of Never After is dumber than when she started.
The world was not expanded in any meaningful way. The plot follows the same beats, the same problems and the same solutions as Once Upon A Broken Heart. I actually like Once Upon a Broken Heart, the first book in the series. But The Ballad of Never After goes through a regression. The only thing I like about this book is at the end, it kind of had a soft reboot. The series might get better because of the plot twist at the end. But The Ballad of Never After was not it. I was not as emotionally devasted at the ending as Stephanie Garber wanted me to be.
Stephanie Garber's The Ballad of Never After is the fiercely anticipated sequel to the #1 New York Times bestseller Once Upon a Broken Heart, starring Evangeline Fox and the Prince of Hearts on a new journey of magic, mystery, and heartbreak.
Not every love is meant to be.
After Jacks, the Prince of Hearts, betrays her, Evangeline Fox swears she'll never trust him again. Now that she’s discovered her own magic, Evangeline believes she can use it to restore the chance at happily ever after that Jacks stole away.
But when a new terrifying curse is revealed, Evangeline finds herself entering into a tenuous partnership with the Prince of Hearts again. Only this time, the rules have changed. Jacks isn’t the only force Evangeline needs to be wary of. In fact, he might be the only one she can trust, despite her desire to despise him.
Instead of a love spell wreaking havoc on Evangeline’s life, a murderous spell has been cast. To break it, Evangeline and Jacks will have to do battle with old friends, new foes, and a magic that plays with heads and hearts. Evangeline has always trusted her heart, but this time she’s not sure she can. . . .
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