Why I Don’t Like the Ending of A Heart So Fierce and Broken

The Ending of A Heart So Fierce and Broken

Spoilers!  Only read if you have finished A Heart So Fierce and Broken!

Brigid Kemmerer is one of my favorite contemporary YA authors, so I was not wholly surprised to discover that she can write a compelling fantasy series, as well.  The heart of her stories has always been her characters, who seem vibrantly alive, and who seem destined to capture the sympathies of readers.  Naturally, I fell in love with Harper and Rhen and Grey when I read A Curse So Dark and Lonely.  Naturally, I fell in love all over again in A Heart So Fierce and Broken, and I found new characters to love, as well.  The strength of A Heart So Fierce and Broken is, for me, the conflict between Rhen and Grey.  I remember rooting for Rhen, wanting him desperately to save himself and to save his country.  It is heart-breaking that now he appears to be the enemy.  I feel compelled to root for Grey now, but I wonder what happened.  How could Rhen seemingly change so much?  And how can Harper still stand by his side?  A Heart So Fierce and Broken is so extraordinary because it makes readers feel what Grey feels: the recognition that Rhen no longer seems to be a good ruler, but a reluctance to stand against a man who seemed so good.  And maybe, just maybe, a dash of realization that Rhen was not that good all along–he did lie to his people–but we wanted to support him, anyway.

A Heart So Fierce and Broken places the conflict between Rhen and Grey at the center of the story, setting readers up for a final showdown in which Grey must decide if he is willing to fight his brother to save the people of Emberfall, and in which Rhen must decide if he is willing to sacrifice everyone to cling to his throne.  The premise is original and striking.  Fantasy series very often rely on the “good guys” fighting a dark lord or an otherwise evil villain.  Not very often does one find a story in which the “good guys” must reluctantly face a former ally in order to preserve what they see as the greater good.  The concept is rich and nuanced, because it actually does not seem right to march to war against Rhen.  No matter how many cruel things he has done to save his own title, we know Rhen.  We loved Rhen.  We still want to believe in him.

This richness is why the ending of A Heart So Fierce and Broken is so deeply unsatisfying.  By raising Lilith from the dead, so to speak, Kemmerer erases all the moves she made during the course of the story and resets it so that Grey and Rhen have to fight the same villain once more in the third installment of the book.  Far from being a thrilling cliffhanger, Lilith’s emergence is boring and somewhat unimaginative. A more interesting story would be Grey fighting his brother, and torn apart about it.  Grey eventually finding out Rhen is still being controlled by the same old villain and joining with him to defeat her has a “been there, done that” feel.  I would much prefer a story in which Grey and Rhen actually have to rely on their wits and their hearts to find a peaceable solution, instead of presumably just joining together against a common enemy.

The ending of A Heart So Fierce and Broken feels a little like a betrayal because it sets readers up for one story only to take that away at the last minute in exchange for a cheap plot twist.  I was excited to read a fantasy series that seemed poised to move away from the black-and-white battles between the protagonists and the evil wielder of magic and instead focus on a battle drawn in shades of grey.  Now, that all seems to be gone.  We will be retreading old ground in the next book, fighting a villain who really ought to be dead.

12 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Like the Ending of A Heart So Fierce and Broken

  1. Briana | Pages Unbound says:

    It feels like an attempt to make everything “not Rhen’s fault,” along with the sporadic references to the fact he probably has PTSD from being cursed. It’s entirely understandable if he does have PTSD, but the fact remains he’s still acting like a jerk to literally everyone and going around killing his royal subjects and generally being horrific so…I don’t know. There’s no real salvaging him as a character for readers to “like,” or to want to root for, I think, which is frustrating because it undoes everything from book one.


    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I don’t appreciate that the narrative seems to be trying to shift blame away from Rhen now. He made his choices. He didn’t have to. And it’s just plain bizarre he’s being blamed for lying to his subjects when Harper and Grey helped him do that, but they are apparently totally innocent and not at all to blame and Grey can claim the throne instead. What…? We were told to cheer the team on for this in book one to save the kingdom and now it’s all, “That was actually bad, but Rhen murdering people can actually be excused.” No, I think not.

      Also, where is Harper during all this? Why is she supporting Rhen in his murderous campaigns? What is she doing to stop him, exactly? It makes no sense for her to stand at his side and say nothing. It’s out of character and makes her look complicit. But again, we’re supposed to find her innocent because the narrative says so.


      • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

        I really wanted a Harper POV in this book because I have so many questions about her reaction and what she’s been doing. Like, does she think he has PTSD? Has she been staying with him to try to help him? Or is she just like, “Eh, whatever?” Every time we see her, she seems fixated on some personal issue like wanting to be friends with Grey again, not with the whole…murdering innocents thing.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Krysta says:

          She mentioned wanting to help a few times, but she doesn’t do anything as far as we know, so I don’t know what the point is. She seemed willing to allow Grey and a young boy to be beaten to death, for example. One thinks she would protest a bit more, even if she’s ultimately ineffective. Lia Mara ends up being the one who does anything even remotely useful, which is all well and good since it’s “her” story, but it makes Harper come off really badly.


          • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

            Yeah, she says she wants to help but kind of seems to be just watching. And, I mean, wouldn’t half these things be relationship deal breakers? If I were dating someone who had an innocent child whipped to “punish” someone who liked the kid, we would be broken up very quickly.

            I appreciate that more books are addressing PTSD and the idea that people don’t come out of curses and being tortured by fantasy villains without mental scars, but I haven’t seen one that’s really nuanced yet. It’s either “They’re just awful; hate them” or “It’s PTSD; it’s fine!”

            Liked by 1 person

  2. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Sounds like it deals with an interesting issue (especially since Gray was the most compelling character in book 1) such a shame that it uses a cop out/cheap plot twist to get out of the morally grey area! (no pun intended 😉 )


  3. Madhushree says:

    Hi loved your post.Everything you wrote is absolutely correct in terms of evolution of the story and then suddenly going back to an already experienced storyline and yet I was a little relieved and a happy too for Rhen to be salvaged a little. We loved him in Book 1 and to see him hated by everyone after so much ordeal was heartbreaking for me. And although Grey is amazing but you’ll see Grey and Rhen from the beginning complement each other and a story ahead in which they can end as brothers does have a good feel…no?There is a bond between Grey and Rhen that I would not like to see crushed out completely instead I want to see Rhen rising through is fears and cruelty and that can only be salvaged by Grey I feel. Which I think is where the story is going in book 3.


    • Krysta says:

      I’d like to see Grey and Rhen together again, too, but I thought it didn’t make sense for Kemmerer to justify all of Rhen’s actions in book one, then backtrack and make him a monster, and then “excuse” his actions in time for book three. It’s like he doesn’t have a real character. He’s just whatever the plot demands. And it made Harper look really bad to be supporting a man who tortures other people. How is she supposed to be a heroine when she is enabling monstrosities? It almost reads Kemmerer just thought it would be super dramatic to have all this upheaval and then undo it with a big reveal, but it all accidentally destroyed her characterization in the process.


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