friends to enemies to ??? mystery fantasy

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"Maybe that was the real secret to a successful con: You had to know exactly what you were willing to risk."


Thank you to BookishFirst for a giveaway of this book for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I discovered Garden of the Cursed on Netgalley and was immediately drawn in by its stunning cover and this blurb: "enemies-to-lovers romantasy mystery, cursebreaker Marlow Briggs reluctantly pretends to be in love with a powerful noble to gain entry into an illustrious—and deadly—society".

Garden of the Cursed follows Marlow, a cursebreaker whose mother went missing roughly a year ago. Answers to her disappearance are essentially nonexistent, and in the meantime, gets offered a large amount of pay by the son of a powerful noble in order to help him break a curse. The catch? In order to investigate, she needs to pretend to be his girlfriend. Also? They're enemies who used to be friends.

I really enjoyed both Adrius and Marlow, along with the side characters! There were a few minor characters I got mixed up along the way, and I would like to know a little more about the characters' interests outside of their sort of 'quest' and romance, but it's usually rare for me to see fantasy books where the characters have interests outside of that, so that's more of a subgenre complaint. The characters did feel fleshed out in terms of personality!

The atmosphere was enjoyable, but I was a little thrown at first. The setting reminded me of Crescent City, like it was set in the modern world with a fresh name slapped on it? When I applied for an ARC, it was tagged as high fantasy, so I wasn't expecting her to immediately mention cops. I didn't hate the world, it just took a bit of getting used to. It was not as academia aesthetic ™ as I expected.

I really enjoyed the writing style! I'd have plenty more quotes saved if I weren't listening to this on audiobook. The narrator was a little bit monotone, but it made it easier to speed up without missing anything. The plot felt like a fun murder mystery almost, except with a curse instead of murder. My main complaint is that there were some things I felt went unanswered by the end. It was a cliffhanger for book 2, but (unless I missed it) I felt like not knowing Adrius' perspective on the final interaction of their friendship after a whole book was too dragged out for me.

The magic system of spellcraft being used essentially with playing cards was very intriguing to me and I enjoyed it! I look forward to reading Masquerade of the Heart next year and would recommend this to people who enjoy a sort of urban fantasy mystery with a slow-burn romance!