Published by HarperTeen on March 14, 2023
Genres: Fantasy, YA (Young Adult)
Format: Kindle or ebook
Source: the publisher
Purchase: Amazon | Bookshop | Barnes & Noble | Audible
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Perfect for fans of Margaret Rogerson and Tamora Pierce, this standalone YA debut is a stunning cottagecore fantasy romance about a girl with powerful and violent magic, which she must learn to control—or lose everything she loves.
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.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
Flowers and magic, potions and secrets
Clara’s magic has always been difficult to control. It bursts out in odd and unexpected ways, often in the form of flowers, and it can sometimes be destructive. Learning to control her magic seems impossible. But when her magic surges out of control and curses her own father, Clara discovers she has little choice, for only she can reverse the curse. Unfortunately, the only wizard now willing to take her on as an apprentice is her former best friend Xavier Morwyn, and the price he asks for his aid is high.
I would describe Flowerheart as “cozy fantasy” with a strong cottagecore vibe. Although Clara’s father is in danger, and there’s a secondary mystery involving a potion (or drug) with disturbing side effects, the stakes are more personal than epic, and I was never in much doubt regarding the ultimate outcome. Flowerheart is also very much a YA fantasy-romance, and one that reads fairly “young” at that. The main character and her love interest are both about 16, and their relationship never moves beyond a few kisses, so if you’re looking for fantasy for a precocious reader, this book would be perfect.
But within that cozy-fantasy, YA-romance framework, Flowerheart explores the pain and struggles of depression. One way Bakewell does this is through Clara’s magic: it speaks to her constantly, in that critical, self-sabotaging voice we all carry inside: the one that tries to tell us we’re worthless, we’re unlovable, we’re going to fail. Anyone who has struggled with their own inner critic will recognize it and relate to Clara’s struggles. That voice, in the “person” of Clara’s magic, is powerful, stronger in Clara than in most magic-users, and the key to controlling her magic isn’t what you might expect.
The dangerous potion I mentioned earlier is central to a more overt exploration of depression, though I can’t go into detail to avoid spoilers. Ultimately, though, the book offers hope, both to the characters and to the reader sharing Clara’s journey.
I don’t want to neglect the lighter, more delightful aspects of the book. Clara’s magic often manifests as unexpected flowers, and Bakewell incorporates the Victorian language of flowers to great advantage throughout: pink camellias mean “lasting affection,” daisies say “I have a secret,” marigolds signal “I grieve for you,” begonias are “a warning of evil to come,” and of course, red roses signify romantic love. The Morwyn house is truly magical, with a shop where they sell their healing potions, a spiral staircase that turns into a slide, and a magical cupboard that provides anything from meringues to clothing at its own discretion. There are lighter moments sprinkled throughout, and many instances of kindness or compassion. For instance, one of Clara’s former teachers clearly still cares for and supports her, and her relationship with her father is strong and loving. Generally, most of the characters are well-intentioned… although as in real life, there are some who are less than kind. As for diversity, while the main characters are white and cis, the secondary characters are reasonably diverse, including both a trans woman and a nonbinary character. There is a brief suggestion that Clara is bi, but it goes by so quickly many readers may miss it.
I recommend Flowerheart if you’re in the mood for cottagecore or cozy fantasy, love flower magic, or are looking for a YA fantasy-romance suitable for a precocious reader.
Challenges: COYER Upside Down, Chapt. 2; NetGalley & Edelweiss Challenge 2023
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- COYER Upside-Down 2023: Chapter 2
- NetGalley & Edelweiss Reading Challenge 2023