Review: A Curse of Roses by Diana Pinguicha

With just one touch, bread turns into roses. With just one bite, cheese turns into lilies.

There’s a famine plaguing the land, and Princess Yzabel is wasting food simply by trying to eat. Before she can even swallow, her magic—her curse—has turned her meal into a bouquet. She’s on the verge of starving, which only reminds her that the people of Portugal have been enduring the same pain.

If only it were possible to reverse her magic. Then she could turn flowers…into food.

Fatyan, a beautiful Enchanted Moura, is the only one who can help. But she is trapped by magical binds. She can teach Yzabel how to control her curse—if Yzabel sets her free with a kiss.

As the King of Portugal’s betrothed, Yzabel would be committing treason, but what good is a king if his country has starved to death?

With just one kiss, Fatyan is set free. And with just one kiss, Yzabel is yearning for more. She’d sought out Fatyan to help her save the people. Now, loving her could mean Yzabel’s destruction.

Rating: 3.5/5

Review

2020 has blessed us with several queer retellings of myths and fairytales, and I was admittedly concerned that A Curse of Roses would feel too similar to other books I’ve read this year to give it an objective review. Luckily, I needn’t have worried. Elements of Portuguese history and culture are both deeply interwoven into Yzabel’s story, which gave this book a unique perspective – exactly the purpose of an #ownvoices retelling.

Like most retellings, the plot is fairly basic, and Yzabel and Fatyan’s relationship follows a fairly standard cursed-mentee/wise mentor template, though both characters are interesting enough in their own right to make up for the straightforward narrative. Also, Yzabel is thirsty for Fatyan, and I loved it.

However, this book is much more a historical novel than I anticipated; Yzabel and her fiancé, Denis, are based on real Portuguese royals, and there are several references to the Reconquista. This leads to the most interesting part of the novel, for me: Yzabel struggles deeply with internalised homophobia and reconciling her desire for Fatyan with her Christian faith. I thought this book did an excellent job of pointing out the role that religion played in controlling women’s lives in the Middle Ages and the hypocrisy of various religious leaders, while also respecting Yzabel’s beliefs and the way she embodied what she saw as Christian values of charity and kindness. Pinguicha also does an excellent job at balancing the period-typical homophobia with an acknowledgment of the fact that queer women existed everywhere in history, and were often able to use gender stereotypes to their advantage in carving-out safe spaces for themselves without men getting suspicious.

If I had any issues with this book, it’s that I would have liked a slightly broader scope. This is a very tight-knit book with a small cast of characters, and almost all of the action takes place within the castle and the immediately surrounding streeting (save for one steamy scene in the local baths… ). I also think this book could have benefited from expanding a little more on Portuguese history for those of us who are relatively unfamiliar; without going into spoiler territory, some of the final conflict in this book is based on the divide between Christians and Muslims, which feels a little abrupt without a good understanding of the historical context. (I did quite a bit of Googling afterwards).

I’m not sure it’s really necessary for me to extoll the importance of ownvoices narratives to anyone who’s gotten this far into my review, but A Curse of Roses was definitely another example of how much diverse perspectives can bring to the fantasy genre.

Note: I received an ARC from Entangled Teen. A Curse of Roses is available from 1 December.

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