Title: Merry Arlan: Breaking The Curse (Guardian Cadet #1)
Author: Will Soulsby-McCreath
Publisher: Nopoodles Everything Books
Publication date: October 26, 2021
One Sentence Summary: Merry wants more than anything to become part of the Brotherhood of Guardians, and helping an Elf and a Guardian Colonel might just help her get there.
Merry Arlan: Breaking The Curse is an incredible fantasy that touches on everything from mental health to race and prejudice. It’s full of complex characters, fantastic relationships, and an incredible world. The story follows Merry as she tries to keep her past under wraps and persists in her goal to join the all male Guardians, all while trying to help break a curse on an Elf related to her roommate’s boyfriend. I really loved Merry and how she really tried to have her heart in the right place, but is a bit reckless. All of the relationships in this book are wonderful and realistic in achingly beautiful ways, and I enjoyed how Merry navigated them all. If anything, I wished for a little more detail to the world and more complexity to the story, but, really, there are enough issues and topics handled throughout the story to complicated just about everything in Merry’s life. Overall, this novel is very nicely balanced with an accepting world we can only hope for, characters I wouldn’t mind being friends with, and enough complications in Merry’s life to keep every step of her journey interesting.
Merry Arlan hides a complicated family history, but wants nothing more than to join the Brotherhood of Guardians despite being female. When an Elf and a Guardian Colonel come to see her because of a very rare ability she has, she knows her past has the power to come roaring back and she must decline. Until the Colonel offers her something she wants more than anything else. With her life suddenly busier and more complex, she must tread carefully, but it doesn’t stop her past and present from colliding. And from dragging those she knows and loves into the storm.
Merry Arlan: Breaking The Curse touches on so many different things it should collapse on itself as most books that take on too much usually do, but it’s all handled with such a deft hand and with so much care that it actually flowed exceptionally well. From race and prejudice to mental health to the complications of family and bullying, this book really has it all and it’s all so masterfully handled and woven together. The characters shine in every single scene and the story never gets bogged down.
To say I was floored by the characters would be a huge understatement. All of them, from the main character Merry to Colonel Kalik to Lior to Kitty to Larrings, are so complex and unique. Absolutely none of them, even the more minor characters, felt like cut outs or even one dimensional. They each have their own story, their own backgrounds driving them forward. Even when I didn’t know what their story was, I still felt like there was something behind them.
But, of course, I loved Merry the most. As she’s the one telling the story, the reader gets a very intimate look at her. She has secrets she’s hiding, as well as a bit of a reckless streak that gets her into trouble but really helps the reader see the goodness of her heart. Both she and her story line are complex and layered because of her complicated past and the secrets she tries so desperately to keep hidden. Through her, mental health and trauma, among others, are explored, how it impacts and shapes her, and how hard she works despite it to get what she wants. I love how driven she is to go for her dreams, and how damaged she is, though she really does try and always tries to have her heart in the right place.
There’s an absolutely gorgeous romantic streak throughout the book. It’s subtle and never overpowers the story, a slow burn that feels so achingly real. I loved that absolutely nothing about it felt forced, that it unfolded completely organically. It’s not perfect, considering the characters involved in it, but it is beautiful and felt so real I could almost touch it. It was a perfect blend of immersive moments and light hints that never detracted from the rest of the story and were always perfectly placed within the larger story. As a reader who hates it when the romance overtakes everything, I admired everything about the delicate hand that wove it in, and it really helped me feel the full force of how beautiful it is.
The story itself was on the simpler side, focusing on Merry’s desire to become a Guardian despite being a female and the Brotherhood of Guardians only accepting men and on Merry and Colonial Kalik trying to break a curse on the aunt of Merry’s roommate’s boyfriend. In many ways, Merry Arlan: Breaking The Curse felt like Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce for a new, older generation. Where Alanna had to hide her identity to become a knight, Merry doesn’t, but does have to prove herself. I really liked that the fact that Merry was accepted despite being openly female felt like a huge step forward from the Alanna that had to hide herself, that there’s a great deal more acceptance in this world, but it’s still not perfect. The breaking of the curse part was also a fun ride. I loved that it tied in so closely to Merry’s history, and I felt pained for her when she had to reveal such deeply hidden information, and the way her history came back to haunt her. Once in a while, it felt a bit buried behind Merry’s training, but it roared back with a vengeance in a way I could never have guessed. I really liked how the whole story just unfolded so organically, with both predictability and unpredictability. It felt very character-driven and brought all sides of the story together while also leaving the door open for more to the story. If there’s anything I wished for, it was for a bit more complexity to the story, but, honestly, by the end when it came together so beautifully (if a bit gasp-inducing to me) that I found myself completely satisfied.
Even though the world wasn’t quite as detailed as I would have liked, I still somehow felt like I was walking the streets of the Island of Shima with Merry. And I hope to get to explore the wider world in future books. There are several races that inhabit this world, from humans to elves to goblins and more. They seem to intersect the most in Shima where the university and multiple embassies are located, which help highlight how accepting the world is. Of course, it’s not perfect and there are other more mundane tensions, especially after Merry is accepted into Guardian training, but sexuality and gender are handled so perfectly with such acceptance that my heart actually ached for this kind of world to be real. What I truly loved was Lior, a non-binary character. I haven’t read many books with characters like Lior, but this is the first so far that made everything about it feel natural instead of weirdly forced. Usually, I stumble a bit over the pronouns because I don’t read them often, but, in Merry Arlan: Breaking The Curse, it felt so natural.
Merry Arlan: Breaking The Curse isn’t terribly long, but it really packs everything in. The world is so much more accepting than our own, so it felt like it was saying these things are perfectly normal and now we can focus on the more important things going on. There was no pausing to expound on why the world was and how it got to be as accepting as it is while still having underlying race and gender tensions. It simply was. There’s also a big focus on mental health and how it’s so naturally accepted and handled. There’s no stigma and it felt like it was clearly just a piece of someone and help was available and not looked down on. There’s magic and Guardian training, friendship and romance, complicated family histories and complex personal struggles. I do wish more of the magic aspects has been discussed more, especially since Merry’s sounded so interesting and made some things a bit interesting for her. But I must admire how well it was all handled so everything was touched on with a great deal of care while refraining from taking over.
Merry Arlan: Breaking The Curse is one of those few novels that kept me guessing what was going to come next and made my figurative jaw drop more than once. This book gave me the tingles in the best way possible and just made me feel so much. I can’t count the times something in this novel touched me, and there’s a lot in it that will stay with me for a long, long time.
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Thank you to Will Soulsby-McCreath for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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