Garden of the Cursed

Holt. (Garden of the Cursed: Bk. 1). Jun. 2023. 352p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781250846662.
Gr 9 Up–A romantic high fantasy for fans of Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights and Shelby Mahurin’s Serpent & Dove. In Caraza, spellcraft is controlled by an oligarchy called the Five Families. Once, Marlow had access to the rich and powerful, learning spellcraft alongside the children of the Five Families. When her mother disappeared, so did Marlow’s easy life. When her ex-friend Adrius Falcrest, an heir of the Five Families, comes to her years later for help breaking a curse, Marlow finds herself on his arm, pretending to be his girlfriend to keep the investigation discreet. Adrius is her ticket back into the Five Families’ sphere of influence where she can find out what happened to her mother, but now she’s playing at the life she might have had if Adrius hadn’t rejected her all those years ago. Pool has crafted complex, intersectionally diverse characters who propel the plot and worldbuilding to higher and higher stakes. Curses are cast through cards, which are powered by sacrificing memories (among other things), and Marlow’s detective work invites readers to examine the layers of social, economic, and magical worldbuilding at play. The romantic tension between Marlow and Adrius is top-tier, as Marlow puts aside her pride and pursues her goals with ambition.
VERDICT Romantic and adrenaline-inducing, with a mystery that will have readers back for the sequel. Recommended for general purchase.

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