Monday, June 17, 2024

#Review - Masquerade of the Heart by Katy Rose Pool #YA #Fantasy #Romance

Series: Garden of the Cursed (#2)
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
Release Date: June 18, 2024
Publisher: Holt Books for Young Readers
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Romance

In the conclusion to this romantic YA fantasy/mystery duology from Morris Award finalist Katy Pool, Veronica Mars meets a glitzy and gritty Gilded Age–inspired fantasy world in which cursebreaker Marlow pretends to be in love with a powerful noble as she searches for her missing mother.

The city of Caraza sits poised on the edge of chaos—and cursebreaker Marlow Briggs is at the center of a deadly struggle for power. In the tragic aftermath of the Vale-Falcrest wedding, Marlow is spurned by Adrius, who refuses to speak to her and publicly vows to find a noble wife before the year is out. Despite her heartbreak, Marlow is still intent on breaking his compulsion curse. To do so, she’ll have to play loving daughter to the man who cast it—the man who’s hellbent on reshaping Caraza in his own image, no matter the cost.

But the closer she gets to her long-lost father, the more Marlow starts to question if he’s really the villain she’s made him out to be. As the lines between enemy and ally blur, Marlow must decide if she’s willing to sacrifice her heart’s desire to save a city that wants her dead.

Masquerade of the Heart is the second, and final installment in Katy Rose Pool's Garden of the Cursed duology. Key Characters: Marlow Briggs one of the best cursebreakers in the City of Caraza. Vale Falcrest former heir to the Falcrest Family after the events of the first installment. Like the first book, we follow Marlow's POV, but we also get a few Adrius chapters sprinkled in this time too. The city of Caraza sits poised on the edge of chaos—and cursebreaker Marlow Briggs is at the center of a deadly struggle for power. 
In the tragic aftermath of the Vale-Falcrest wedding, Marlow is being spurned by Adrius, who refuses to speak to her and publicly vows to find a noble wife before the year is out while his sister Amara truly believes that she is guilty of trying to murder her father and will do anything to make her life miserable. Despite her heartbreak, Marlow is still intent on breaking his compulsion curse. To do so, she’ll have to play loving daughter to the man who cast it—the man (Cormorant Vale) who’s hellbent on reshaping Caraza in his own image, no matter the cost if he can get his hands on a valuable grimoire.
As Marlow navigates a city where far too many people want her dead, be it the gangs (Reapers & Copperheads) she’s crossed in the Marshes or the aristocrats (Evergarden Society) offended by her very presence in their gilded halls, the closer she gets to discovering what really happened to her own mother Cassandra, and the more Marlow starts to question if her father is really the villain she’s made him out to be. As the lines between enemy and ally blur, Marlow must decide if she’s willing to sacrifice her heart’s desire to save a city that wants her dead. 
*Thoughts* As a certain singer once said, "Sorry Not Sorry" but adding in a romance for the sake of a certain group of individuals was time consuming and a waste of time that should have been spent on Marlow and Adrius. Also, after everything that Marlow has been through for the past how many years, for the author not to allow any sort of resolution with her mother disappoints me. Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be, but I would have loved to see reconciliation. Marlow is a likable character not because of all the crap that is done to her, but how she manages to keep her sanity after the backstabbing and betrayal by people who were supposed to be friends.


Warm rain poured over Marlow as she stood outside the towering front gate of Falcrest Hall.

The gate was shut, its iron finials piercing the dark-gray sky like fangs. Invisible wards snaked through the bars to keep unwanted visitors out.

And Marlow knew she was just about as unwanted as they came.

Clutching a bouquet of deep-violet blooms to her chest, she raised her other hand to press the button of the enchanted intercom. A crackle of static burst from the speaker, and then a prim, flat voice answered, “Falcrest Hall is closed to visitors at this time.”

Marlow cleared her throat. “I have a delivery.”

There was a pause on the other side of the intercom. Marlow tugged her hood closer to her face—she knew her image was being projected to the head steward, or whoever it was she was speaking with.

“One moment,” the steward said curtly, and then the intercom clicked off.

Several long, silent minutes passed, the rain steadily pounding down on Marlow in sheets. She was far beyond drenched, and despite the sticky heat, she started to shiver.

Just as she was beginning to suspect that the steward planned to leave her dripping and shaking until she eventually gave up, she spotted a figure coming down from the main steps of Falcrest Hall.

Through the heavy downpour, Marlow could only discern the figure as a dark smear against the gray sky, until they were just a few dozen paces away.

Marlow’s heart dropped into her stomach.

Amara stepped up to the gate. She was dressed entirely in black, from the sculptural cape she wore over a columnar gown to the enchanted umbrella that floated just above her, shielding her from the downpour. Every line of her clothing, her severe makeup, even her shining raven hair, was aggressively polished.

Marlow could not help seeing her own bedraggled appearance through Amara’s eyes—her tangled, damp blond hair, the plain, ill-fitting clothes she’d taken from her old wardrobe in Vale Tower, her pale face lined with shadows from too little sleep.

Amara’s wine-red lips lifted into a snarl. “What? Have you come here hoping to finish my father off?”

Marlow swallowed thickly, letting the flowers drop to her side, and with them, any pretense as to her purpose here. “I came to speak to Adrius.”

An incredulous laugh barked from Amara’s mouth. Her dark eyes blazed. “You are never going to see or speak to anyone in my family ever again.”

Marlow didn’t let herself flinch from the deep hatred in Amara’s gaze. She knew there was little point in arguing—Amara had no reason to hear her out. As far as she knew, Marlow had just tried to murder her father in cold blood.

She should have known coming to Falcrest Hall would be pointless, but she had to try. Adrius’s life might depend on it.

“Please.” She gripped the bars of the gate. “I just need five minutes. Please.”

“And give you a chance to dig your claws into him again?” Amara scoffed. “Never.”

“I wouldn’t have come here unless it was important.” Marlow’s knuckles were turning white with the force of her grip, as if letting go of the gate would mean giving up on this foolish mission.

“Oh, is it?” Amara said mockingly. “Well, if it’s so important, then why don’t you tell me?”

Amara didn’t know about the Compulsion curse Adrius was under. She may have suspected something—at least Silvan had thought so—but she didn’t know the full truth. And Marlow wasn’t going to spill the secret to her. Adrius may have been Amara’s brother, but like her father, Amara saw him as something that needed to be controlled.

There was no way in hell Marlow was going to hand that control over to her.

But as Marlow looked at her face, she began to see the cracks in Amara’s armor. The faint shadows under her eyes. The reddish tint to her cheeks and nose that made it apparent she’d been crying.

Amara couldn’t know about Adrius’s curse, that much Marlow was firm on. But Amara wasn’t as emotionless as she tried to appear. Her father was dying somewhere inside Falcrest Hall, and as horrible a man as he was, Marlow could see that Amara’s grief for him was real.

She deserved to know the truth about who had tried to take him from her.

“It’s about your father,” Marlow began.

Amara’s face twisted with undeniable fury. “Don’t talk about my father.”

“I know you hate me,” Marlow said, desperation seeping into her words. “And you have every reason to. But you don’t know the whole truth about what happened. If you’d just listen—”

“Marlow?” a voice called over the drum of the rain.

It had come from behind Marlow. She and Amara both turned to see who was there.

Marlow’s heart slammed against her ribs as her gaze landed on Vale.

He stood beneath the shelter of his own enchanted umbrella, cobalt-blue suit blending almost seamlessly into the gray clouds behind him. His warm, boyish features were creased with concern, his gray eyes trained on Marlow. She had last seen him only a few hours ago, in the living room of her apartment in Vale Tower, where he’d embraced her as Marlow finally put the pieces together about what he’d done.

He stepped toward her. “Marlow, what are you doing here?”

A chill skittered down her spine. “Did you follow me here?”

Vale’s brow wrinkled with confusion. “Of course not. Amara is hosting a dinner for the heads of the Five Families and the Falcrest vassal houses.”

Marlow turned back to Amara in surprise. It hadn’t even been two days since her father was attacked, and Amara was already hosting a dinner?

Then again, maybe it made perfect sense. She noted the tension in Amara’s jaw. This dinner wasn’t just a social occasion. Amara’s grief was real, but so was the political reality of the Five Families. And if Marlow knew one thing about Amara, it was that she always put strategy above sentiment. With her father lying half-dead, Amara would be under pressure to shore up the Falcrest family’s power before someone took advantage of their weakened position.

“So?” Amara asked, ignoring Vale completely, her gaze searing into Marlow. “What is it you wanted to tell me?”

Marlow could feel Vale’s eyes on her, too. A hysterical, desperate urge welled up in her. She wanted to grab Amara through the bars of the gate and say, It’s him, he’s the one responsible for your father’s attack, don’t let him in, don’t let him near Adrius, please, Amara.

She choked down the words. Vale had no idea that Marlow knew anything about what he’d done—anything about the Compulsion curse he’d placed on Adrius, the order he’d given him to stab his own father in the heart. And it had to stay that way, until Marlow could figure out what he was really up to.

She lowered her gaze, uncurling her cold, wet fingers from the bars of the gate. “Tell Adrius I’m sorry,” she said, and then turned away and retreated into the downpour.

“Keep her the hell away from my family!” Amara snarled at Vale.

Vale didn’t even acknowledge the demand. His gaze was pinned on Marlow, gray eyes dark like storm clouds. He stepped toward her and laid a hand on her shoulder before she could pass.

Marlow braced herself against a shudder.

“We’ll talk about this tomorrow,” he said in a grim tone.

Talk about what? Marlow showing up at Falcrest Hall in the most foolish of fool’s errands? Her back teeth clenched against the anger building in her gut, but she forced herself to meet Vale’s gaze with a nod.

Vale returned her nod with satisfaction and then patted her once on the shoulder and released her.

It took all her willpower to turn away and allow Vale to walk through the gates of Falcrest Hall, knowing that Adrius was somewhere inside. Knowing he was still under the Compulsion curse. Knowing Vale was the one who had cast it.

And not knowing just what Vale would do with that power.


The first course had already come and gone by the time Adrius made his entrance to the dining room. He could still see the remnants of some fussy appetizer involving candied figs and thinly sliced cured meat.

“Adrius,” Amara greeted him from the head of the table. The crease beside the corner of her mouth announced her displeasure. “I didn’t realize you were joining us.”

Adrius sauntered past the seated guests, swiping a random glass of wine off the table as he went to flop down in an empty chair to Amara’s left. “Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss it.”

Truthfully, he had decided to skip this little gathering, intending to spend his evening getting so exquisitely drunk he couldn’t see straight. But at some point, staring down at the bottom of an empty bottle of wine, he’d abruptly decided that actually, a dinner with the heads of all the most important families in Caraza did sound like fun—if only because he knew his mere presence would wreck whatever plan Amara was furiously trying to execute.

Ever since the day of the wedding, Amara had done her level best to ignore Adrius’s entire existence, and he was finally sick of it.

He smiled blithely at her over the rim of his wineglass and turned his attention to the guests. Representatives of all the Falcrest vassal houses were seated around the table, as well as the heads of the other Five Families—Zeno Morandi, Dahlia Starling, and Cormorant Vale. Missing, of course, was the Delvigne family. While still nominally one of the original Five Families, Adrius’s mother’s family had long been subsumed by the Falcrests.

“So!” Adrius said brightly, wine sloshing out of his glass and splashing onto the fine tablecloth. “What are we all talking about?”

“Actually,” Amara said crisply. “We were discussing you. And I really should thank you for proving my point so succinctly.” She turned to address her guests. “As you can plainly see with your own eyes, Adrius is hardly fit to take over Falcrest family as heir.”

Adrius gave an exaggerated wince. “Not going to sugarcoat it, are you?”

A balding man with a thin nose and spectacles cleared his throat. Adrius recognized him as Jean Renault, the head of one of the most powerful of the Falcrest vassal houses. Adrius had always found him to be criminally uptight and stuffy, but he did hold a lot of sway with the other vassals. “While we appreciate your candor and your opinion on this matter, we do have to wonder—what is it exactly that makes you fit to take over? Your brother was the one Aurelius named as heir. Clearly, he felt Adrius was up to the task.”

Adrius could sense the tension in Amara as her jaw tightened. But her voice was even when she replied, “My father made that decision before Adrius decided to disown the family.”

Renault looked at Adrius. “Is that true?”

Adrius shrugged. The truth of it didn’t matter—what mattered was whether Amara could successfully convince these men that it was in their best interest to put her in charge. She’d failed to convince their father of that—and Adrius supposed he was at least a little curious to see if she’d fare any better with these men.

“It is,” Amara said. “The night before my wedding, Adrius walked out of Falcrest Hall and declared he was never going to return. I believe both my husband and Lord Vale can attest to this.” She glanced to her other side, where Darian sat, ever the dutiful husband.

“He did spend that night at Vale Tower,” Darian confirmed.

“When Adrius walked out of Falcrest Hall, he renounced any claim as heir,” Amara went on in a cool, authoritative voice. “Therefore, the only person with any legitimate claim to the Falcrest family is me.”

The heads of the vassal houses seemed to take a moment to absorb this, glancing around at one another. Finally, Renault spoke again. “We appreciate your position on this, but surely you can understand our … hesitation in putting a teenage girl in charge of the Falcrest family.”

“With all due respect,” Amara said coolly, “it is not your decision to put me in charge or not.”

Renault narrowed his eyes. “Yet I think you’ll find that if the vassal houses are not confident in your leadership, you may lose our support altogether. We need to think of our own families’ fortunes, which are intimately tied up in the Falcrest family operations.” He shot a quick glance over to Zeno Morandi. “We might need to consider whether our interests might be safer in someone else’s hands.”

Adrius stifled a snort. The threat was clear. If Amara didn’t capitulate to the vassal houses’ demands, they would pull their investments from the Falcrest family altogether and find somewhere else to put their money. If even a few of the biggest vassals pulled out, others were sure to follow.

“I assure you,” Amara said in an icy tone, “I am more than capable of running the Falcrest family. I’ve been preparing for this duty my entire life.”

She sounded brutally calm, but it wasn’t enough to fool Adrius. He’d known her for eighteen years, and he knew how to tell if she was angry. And right now, she was furious. She hated that she needed approval from these people, who she no doubt considered beneath her.

“If it would make the vassal houses more comfortable,” Vale cut in from down the table, “perhaps a solution can be reached. Perhaps a … level of oversight might put some of your concerns to rest?”

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