Serena’s Review: “Flowerheart”

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Book: “Flowerheart” by Catherine Bakewell

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, March 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Clara’s magic has always been wild. But it’s never been dangerous. Then a simple touch causes poisonous flowers to bloom in her father’s chest.

The only way to heal him is to cast an extremely difficult spell that requires perfect control. And the only person willing to help is her former best friend, Xavier, who’s grown from a sweet, shy child into a mysterious and distant young man.

Xavier names a terrible price in return, knowing Clara will give anything to save her father. As she struggles to reconcile the new Xavier with the boy she once loved, she discovers their bargain is only one of the heavy secrets he’s hiding. And as she hunts for the truth, she instead finds the root of a terrible darkness that’s taken hold in the queendom—a darkness only Clara’s magic is powerful enough to stop.

Review: This is definitely one of those books that I first looked at because of the cover. It immediately stood out when I was scrolling through Edelweiss+ planning out my spring reading schedule. Tons of books with daggers and swords on the covers, lots of duo characters drawn in that cartoonish style that is so popular right now (not that I dislike this style per se, just there’s a lot of it). This cover’s unique art immediately stood out and had me clicking through to the description. So well done there!

Clara has always struggled to control her magic, so much so that the local leaders have presented her with a terrible ultimatum to prevent her from injuring others. But before she can go through with it, the worst happens and an innocent touch causes her magic to sprout poisonous plants in her father’s chest, dooming him to a painful and slow death. When an old friend offers to help her tame her magic in an attempt to save her father’s life, she doesn’t even hesitate in the face of the steep price he requests. But when it becomes clear that Xavier is caught up in much darker forces than she had previously known, Clara begins to wonder with just whom did she strike her perilous bargain?

One thing that I found interesting when I was looking into this book was that it was marketed as a “cottage core” fantasy novel. What does that even mean? As far as I’m aware “cottage core” is a style of interior decoration. I’m not sure how that translates to a genre of book? Digging deeper, I discovered that there seems to be a recent trend of labeling some books “cozy fantasy,” which I imagine is just a spin-off from the more popular “cozy mystery” subcategory. Based on the latter, I’d guess that a cozy fantasy novel would be a story that avoids darker themes or graphic descriptions. Like cozy mysteries, they would focus on lighter topics and have happy endings, essentially. All of this to say, while I could see how cozy fantasy would apply to this story, I still have no clue about “cottage core.” And honestly, I’m not a fan of that description; interior decoration styles and genres of books are just not the same thing. Sorry, not sorry.

Anyways, that rant aside, I can definitely see how this book could fall into the “cozy” category. Overall, it does stay on the lighter side of things and the plot wraps up with a nice bow at the end. But this book also highlights why a lot of cozy mysteries don’t work for me either. Look, I don’t need tragedy around every corner and tons of graphic violence, but if you paint in only bright colors, without any shades of grey, the entire thing starts to just lose focus and interest. Clara is fine. Xavier is fine. This world and magic are fine. But I didn’t care about any of them.

I also found the magic system and world to be barely fleshed out at all. Towards the second third of the book, we begin to learn about a magical illness that is going around that leaves its victims comatose. This was the first thing to trigger my interest, but even that quickly sank into the quagmire of dullness that I found this read. Nothing was objectively bad, but it all was just so flat feeling that even small points of interest quickly faded away.

There was also an attempt by the author to deal with mental illness, particularly depression and anxiety. And while I applaud the effort, I don’t think it quite hit the mark. At points, it felt incredibly over-simplified and the metaphors heavy-handed. And then Clara has this weird relationship to her own magic where she speaks to it as a living, thinking being using this strange internal dialogue, which I wasn’t a fan of. It turns out that this particular choice plays a larger role later in the story, but that was still too late to save my reading experience through which I had been perpetually annoyed by this.

Overall, this book wasn’t for me. I do think that readers looking for something in the cozy category may enjoy this one more, but I’ve started coming to the conclusion that “cozy” any genre is just not my cup of tea.

Rating 6: Perhaps other readers looking for just a quick, cozy read will enjoy this, but I found everything from the world-building to characterization to be a bit too watered down to enjoy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Flowerheart” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Books that inspired or are similar to Studio Ghibli / Hayao Miyazaki films and CozySFF

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