A Curse of Roses by Diana Pinguicha is an #OwnVoices Portuguese fairytale retelling. In A Curse of Roses, we follow Yzabel as she chooses between love and duty, curses, and blessings.
The Holy Princess Yzabel has been betrothed to the King of Portugal, Denis, since she was ten. However, since she reached puberty, Yzabel has also been cursed to turn all the food she tries to eat into flowers. In a kingdom ruled by religion, Yzabel has been punishing herself ever since to try and rid herself of the curse. With famine and a plague slowly killing the poor in the kingdom and her marriage becoming more imminent, Yzabel seeks to break the curse- or at least reverse what it does. Her lady’s maid Brites and herself go and seek out an Enchanted Moura who will help her maintain her sehar.
“Ah, this is where even more irony comes in,” Fatyan said. “Our legends are always made with men in mind. Women are the object of a curse, not their breakers. Yet, in all these years, no man has been strong enough or brave enough to come. You did.”
To release the Moura from the stone she is trapped in, Yzabel must kiss her. This starts a tumbling, snowballing of thoughts for Yzabel. She begins to recognize that perhaps she did not care for men for more reasons than just her assumed holiness. This is a book that takes many turns, all wrapped up in a tale of respect and love. It kept me interested from the get-go.
“And perhaps kissing a woman was the lesser of two evils and would lead to less complicated entanglements.”
TW: A Curse of Roses includes themes, imagery, and content that might trigger some readers. Discussions of religious-based self-harm, eating disorders, and internalized homophobia appear throughout the novel.
A Curse of Roses does a beautiful job of creating a slow burn romance mixed with the trauma that the Christian church’s indoctrination can cause for LGTBQ+ people. While the priests were telling Yzabel one thing, her feelings and even her betrothed were telling her another. This caused a deep internal conflict that made her feel less than, and as if God would ask her to be punished for these feelings.
As someone raised in a “more accepting” Christian church that still perpetuated homophobia, the way these feelings were worded felt tangible. It was incredibly realistic. While I was never told to beat myself with a cat of nine tails for my sins, my personal self-loathing for it was harmful in the same light. Major TW for the indoctrination. If this is trauma that you may have, including internalized homophobia due to that, I would suggest being self-aware while reading this.
“Never believe the interpretations of men. They distort the original meaning to suit themselves. I was raised on the Bible, too, Yzabel. It’s just something else written by men as well. Like history. Like my own story.”
The romance between Yzabel and Fatyan is so gentle and patient that it took me off guard. There are moments that Yzabel is a completely unaware idiot. During those, Fatyan never pushes her in any direction she isn’t willing to go. With that aside, the relationship between Denis and Yzabel is what impressed me the most. Denis does not push Yzabel, ever. He does not ask her to lie with him when she does not want to, he doesn’t push it, and he tries to allow her to pursue the charities that she wants to. They fight, of course, but at the end of the day, he still is her friend. I thought that was a really refreshing take on a trope like this, and I feel like we don’t see enough of this.
Finally, being able to experience a culture outside of my own was fantastic. The world-building was well done, and the tale retold amazingly. The author’s note at the end explaining the history was well appreciated. Also, there’s a sweet little recipe at the end, and I think that was unique. All in all, this book was beautifully written. I am so grateful to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Watch for this book to release in December, 2020!