Book: “Broken Wish” by Julie C. Dao
Publishing Info: Disney Hyperion, October 2020
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: 1865
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.
Review: I’ve only read one other book by Dao, but it was one I definitely liked. She had a steady, beautiful way of writing that really captured the feeling or essence of a place and time. This is just the story of writing technique that is required for writing good fairytales, in my opinion. So, like always, I was excited to see a new fairytale book make its way onto the publication lists and even more intrigued when I saw that Dao was the author.
The 1800s in Germany is a time and place where women have very few options. But for Elva, it’s not only the typical things that are off-limits, but a part of her very identity: her magical abilities. Growing up, her family has instilled in her the importance of always, always keeping her abilities a secret. The dangers of being thought of as a witch are very real. But when Elva discovers a real witch and sees a glimpse into a terrible future, she realizes that she can’t hide from who she is and what she can do forever.
I feel like the book description is a bit off, as Elva herself doesn’t show up for about a third of the story. Instead, we follow the developing friendship of Elva’s mother with a local witch. The fall-out of this relationship is what puts Elva’s feet on the path of this story. Part of my struggle with this book was how much I really loved this first third, unfortunately. I really liked the beautiful friendship that was built up between Elva’s mother and the witch and then the inevitable moment where things go wrong. It had all the right markers of a fairytale while also focusing on the type of relationship (friendships between adult women) that is rarely seen in just these sorts of stories.
I did like Elva’s story well enough when she did show up. But the story took a more dramatic turn in YA stereotypes at this point, too. There were elements that seemed all too familiar, and I wasn’t super into the romance that we got either. I did like the magic and Elva’s struggles between obeying her parents and recognizing the obligations that come with the power she has. Not only the typical obligations that you usually hear about, but ones that have to do with righting past wrongs, which I thought was an interesting new take on the general concept.
The concept of this series is also interesting. Here, we have Elva’s story and the development of the curse that follows her family (for every two good things that happen, a very bad one follows). The next three (I think three?) books will jump generations and tell new stories focusing on different characters. They will also be written by different authors. This could either be really cool, or it could lead to the series feeling very disjoined and mismatched. Dao’s style of writing worked perfectly for the type of dark fairytale she’s trying to tell here. Will the next books also read like fairytales? Or will they have different tones? And will the other authors being able to capture these tones correctly?
For all the good things (the strength of Dao’s writing and the first third), I did struggle with this book once we got to Elva and the more typical YA fare. But I am curious to see where new authors will take the story in the future and how much they will verge away from or remain true to the story that was started here. Fans of fairytales or Dao’s previous books will likely enjoy this!
Rating 7: An interesting start to an interesting new series, though a bit too reliant on some YA tropes near the end.
“Broken Wish” isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on Oct 2020 – Middle Grade/YA – New Releases.
Find “Broken Wish” at your library using WorldCat!