Hi everyone! Today I’m back again with another review! This book was released in the US at the tail end of 2020 but didn’t release in the UK until the start of this month, so, after reading so many glowing reviews, I was super excited to finally be able to pick this one up when my preorder came through, but it sadly fell a little flat for me!
Title: A Curse of Roses
Author: Diana Pinguicha
Genre: Historical Fantasy, Retelling, LGBT, Young Adult
Synopsis: With just one touch, bread turns into roses. With just one bite, cheese turns into lilies.
There’s a famine plaguing the land, and Princess Yzabel is wasting food simply by trying to eat. Before she can even swallow, her magic—her curse—has turned her meal into a bouquet. She’s on the verge of starving, which only reminds her that the people of Portugal have been enduring the same pain.
If only it were possible to reverse her magic. Then she could turn flowers…into food.
Fatyan, a beautiful Enchanted Moura, is the only one who can help. But she is trapped by magical binds. She can teach Yzabel how to control her curse—if Yzabel sets her free with a kiss.
As the King of Portugal’s betrothed, Yzabel would be committing treason, but what good is a king if his country has starved to death?
With just one kiss, Fatyan is set free. And with just one kiss, Yzabel is yearning for more.
She’d sought out Fatyan to help her save the people. Now, loving her could mean Yzabel’s destruction.
A Curse of Roses follows princess-to-be Yzabel who was born with a peculiar curse – whenever she touches food it turns into flowers. As she is on the verge of starving to death, as much of her impoverished country also is, she decides to hunt down and get the help of an Enchanted Moura to put an end to her curse. But Yzabel must set the Moura, Fatyan, free with a kiss, but this comes with its own complications.
I went into this book super optimistic. Although over the past year I’ve had some mixed feelings towards the fantasy genre as a whole, I’d heard some truly glowing reviews for this book from reviewers whose opinions I trust, such as the lovely Marta (I highly recommend you check out her review!). However, so much of the story felt so underdeveloped to me that I just didn’t find myself super invested in the story and it took me a ridiculously long time (for me anyway) to finish!
But I’ll start this review with what I did like – the discussions on religion and sexuality and the twist on Portuguese legend and history. Throughout the book we see Yzabel struggling with her feelings towards women that she feels are unnatural and sinful, particularly due to her religious upbringing. There are some forms of self-harm related to this in the book, so please be wary of that when you go into it. Despite feeling this way about herself, when she finds out that her husband-to-be, the king, is committing adultery, she does not feel the same way about that ‘sin’ as she does with hers, which complicates matters more. I think the commentary on this was done so well – it is discussed in the literal sense, with regards to her sexuality, but her curse and how she feels about that could also be taken as a metaphor for her sexuality, too, and I know that this book will be so powerful for so many people growing up with a particularly conservative religious background. Furthermore, I felt that Diana Pinguicha’s take on Portuguese history and folklore was super interesting and, although I know nothing of the originals, I think it was a really fun base for the story as I’m a huge sucker for historical fantasy novels.
I did, also, quite enjoy the characters. Specifically, I liked that the king, Denis was not portrayed as being horrible and cruel, like many male ‘romantic interests’ are in sapphic high fantasy books. It was nice to see that he genuinely cared for Yzabel’s wellbeing and valued her points of view and that was very refreshing to see alongside him having his flaws. I also really enjoyed Fatyan’s character and her unwavering passion and kindness, and the slow burn romance was done so beautifully. However, I did have some issues with Yzabel. Throughout the book we are constantly told that she is a good person, and it’s true, she is extremely caring, selfless and is making huge efforts to help those worse off than herself. But it felt like that’s all she was; her kindness was her whole personality. I don’t want to say that I found her to be bland, but I found her to be bland. I liked that she was kind and selfless but I also wanted to know more about her.
I also wanted to know more about the world. I know that this is a young adult fantasy novel, and so it is obviously not going to be as complex as an adult fantasy, but I felt that there was little to no world building. I know absolutely nothing about historical Portugal so I was trying my best to picture everything in my head as if it were Spain in that time period, but I really wasn’t given much to go off of. There were also a few scenes that I felt were sorely underdeveloped (that I won’t go into as I don’t want to spoil anything), particularly with regards to the magic system and, for lack of a better word, developing said magic (if you’ve read the book it’s the ritual scene about halfway through). Finally, I felt like the book ended rather abruptly and I wanted to see perhaps a flash forward to Yzabel in her position as queen, but we sadly never got that.
Despite my mixed feelings about certain aspects of the book, I think that this was a really great debut novel that is so sorely needed in YA literature. If you aren’t the biggest reader of the fantasy genre, I think this would be a really great place to start, and if you’re looking for a book that will bring you so much hope when things are starting to look bleak, then this is the book for you!