The Cursed Heart
Kayden was six months old when the doctor found the curse in his heart. From then on, his life was a struggle to keep it locked away and dormant and above all secret, dreading the day that it would finally break free and wreak havoc. Now he’s fourteen, and that day has come.
Things look bad, but there’s hope — the world’s most prestigious magical school is willing to take him in, keep him safe, and pay his legal fees to avoid bankrupting his family. Most importantly, they can teach him to control his curse, to avoid ever hurting anyone else. It sounds far too good to be true, but what other option does he have?
Kayden quickly finds himself embroiled in a large political game he doesn’t understand. But he’d better learn fast. Because the secrets of his new school run deeper than he ever expected, and his actions have far more dangerous consequences than he could ever have known.
Want to read ahead? Chapters are posted in advance on the Curse Words website.
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I think the premise of this story is great. I know it might feel like it has been done before, but since it is so easily relatable, it cannot be overdone. There are so many promising things you can do with Schools of Magic and this one is promising. I love the modern setting. The characters are sweet and easily relatable too. I like the simplicity of them, no unnecessary angst or complexity. Language is direct and lucid, always gets to the point. Vocabulary is consistent. BTW, was it ever explained what happened during the attack. I am curious to know. My only feedback would be to add some look descriptions of the characters when you are introducing them, without making it forced. I loved reading how Mr. Cooper looked. I hope you can do for more of the others too, lol. It is always fun to visualize characters. I also do not see any big bad introduced yet (I apologize if I am missing something). My other feedback would be to sort of tease the big bad earlier in the chapters or the bigger conflict in earlier chapters, so that the readers can have a stronger motivation to root for Kayden, a prologue may be? Thanks! I truly hope more people read this.
TL;DR version: I broke several of my usual rules when I started reading this one, and I'm very glad I did!
In general, I avoid reading anything with subadult protagonists or magical schools, because the former often bore me and I have never read one of the latter before that I liked (yes, including that one). I will generally start disconnecting and consider abandoning a story in which the protagonist is persistently unsure who to trust.
There are exceptions to most rules, and The Cursed Heart is a major one.
The style is light and enjoyable, easy to read. Everything comes across very clearly, and it's easy to visualize events, but it doesn't bog down in excessive detail. The dialogue is smooth and believable and appropriate to the character speaking, always.
In a word, fascinating. It builds beautifully, from the initial dilemma, through Kayden's first days at school, to the gradual immersion in an increasingly-complex and potentially dangerous situation. It's not a high-action, combat-every-chapter kind of story, but there is no shortage of tense moments that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Also no shortage of vivid emotion, which is what you'd expect from a group of adolescents under varying kinds of pressure, but it never tips over into angst.
The world-building is intriguing, and I love the contrast of what amounts to official vs unofficial magic. So much our own world, and yet all the little changes because of the reality of curses (including info and misinfo how to handle those) and of known, trained magic-users. If the magic in question were different, those cultural changes would have to be larger to be plausible, but with this system... the changes are believable.
Flawless. I'm fussy about grammar, spelling, inaccurate use of expressions, wrong words that probably sounded right. I'll sometimes ignore it for a good reason, but I'm always aware of it. I'm not seeing any of that here. Nothing jolts the reader out of the flow.
The MC and narrator Kayden is wonderful. He's in a difficult situation that would be hard for an adult to cope with, let alone a teenager. A 14-year-old in this situation is going to have some chaotic emotions, and they're there, but balanced perfectly against the action and interaction. Kayden is more the impulsive type, doing what seems like a good idea at the time, than the mopy type who overthinks everything. This inevitably gets him into trouble, especially when he starts trying to put together the available pieces of info about the events around him and comes up with inaccurate conclusions.
The other characters balance and contrast with Kayden's impulsiveness and are very much 3D individuals in their own right, not just mirrors of Kayden or figures present purely to keep the plot moving. They all have flaws, no saints here, but also, no over-the-top sinister mastermind villain twirling his mustache. Relationships build over time, naturally and organically, and family relationships are human and believable.
There are other things that I love about this, but if I keep ranting, I'm going to start getting into spoilers. Finding well-written and highly-original fantasy that has important LGBT+ elements handled with such a light touch is a treat. In this case, it was so good I couldn't bear to wait any longer for the next chapter and headed to the author's website so I could binge-read to the end of the first volume - and I'm going back for the rest.
I think this is a good first chapter but feels rushed. There are several things we are introduced to: the male protagonist, Melissa, Chelsea, the existence of Curses and magic co-existing in with non-magical society; the character under house arrest for an instant that is talked about but not shown. All these things are information overload and I think the author could slow the narrative down and introduce each of these elements at a more digestable pace. Overall though the writing is good and it is an easy read. I think the most interesting part is how someone can have a curse as a ticking time bomb, I wonder how that will play out.
a super cohesive take on a magic school for mages in our world. and it very much literally is our world + mages, and they've always been here. and the way magic and mages work in this world, it all just fits together so perfectly with barely any changes to history. magic is not a secret, you can call a mage on the phone if a curse is causing trouble, it's just another part of society. they're not above the law, they just have good lawyers.
and despite all that, it still somehow manages to make the magic feel so damn magical.
I think that, in terms of both RoyalRoad's audience and the story itself, it's one of the best all-rounded stories I've seen on this site.
The characters are balanced, there's nothing too complicated, and, like the other reviewers said, it reminds of Harry Potter, style-wise. It's really solid, and you seem to have developed the story a lot, so a solid 4.5.
Style Score: 5/5
This fits my personal preferences, really, and I may be biased but the style is impeccable - I genuinely love how the curses are introduced
while balancing the 'secrets' behind the Haven, as well as mage politics with Max, lessons with the teachers, and all in all Kayden's past as a whole.
I love how you write your dialogue, if that makes sense - they sound like teenagers at a magic school, and that really shines through.
Story Score: 4.5/5
Like someone pointed out, it feels comforting to read this, like a weighted blanket. I, personally, prefer either fast-paced or slow-paced stories, but personal preferences aside your development, setting, and plot as a whole is realistic, and it makes me feel warm inside.
The introduction of the mysteries of the curse is produced later than the story than must novels, but I do like it in this case.
Character Score: 4.5/5
Kylie and Kayden aren't instantly best friends, Kayden doesn't instantly discard his his friends when he gets to magic school, and, as I've mentioned, the dialogue is well written, and as is Kayden's character.
He isn't perfect, he has arguments with his friends and flaws, but they're never too emphasized upon or too skipped over, if that makes sense. Descriptions are also short, to-the-point, but still adds the story.
It's one of those well-balanced stories that deserve more hype. WIll definitely follow, keep it up!
In a world where uncontrolled magic can cause... issues with people, our main protagonist Kayden has been living well off. Until things inevitably go wrong and someone's hurt. He gets tossed out of his cozy home into a mysterious school that's specifically set up to handle incidents like this - in addition to training regular non-cursed magic.
With two 'companions' of happenstance, Kayden needs to stick it out for six months before being allowed back home. Assuming everything goes according to plan. Assuming.
But Kayden's a troublemaker that sticks his nose into anything mysterious and everything about this school certainly fits that bill.
Style: Add or remove a star depending on if you like the MC's sense of humor. Some people like that, others will find it annoying. Too subjective of a thing!
Characters: Descriptions are excellent, fluid enough that you don't notice you're reading a description - which IMO is the best possible compliment you could give a writer. Author uses some clever and unique ways to describe people. Like this little gem: "He was tall, thin, and gave the distinct impression of someone who, when he was old enough to grow a proper beard, would immediately shape it into a goatee."
The side characters are filled with flaws, vulnerabilities and quirks, and don't all immediately get together and sing kumbayas. Which is a GOOD THING. Mary sue characters are boring to read. And these characters are anything but, all completely different from one another right down to how they speak.
Story: It's a slow burn that won't hook immediately. The real intrigue starts right at the end of chapter 5, and things get exponentially more interesting after. Everything up to that point is setup, and there's no real tension till then.
The world is well polished, right down to lawyers handling issues and good points on how culture would view magic and especially uncontrollable magic. A lot of the questions you might have are typically those you know the author is holding in reserve to explain in more detail as a whammy later on - like where the curse marks came from, how they end up on widely random people, or other deep lore like that.
Grammar: I'm generally blind to grammar so this isn't really something I could rate accurately. I never saw any glaring issues and everything read just fine to me!
Overall: If you enjoy the idea of an urban fantasy set in a magical academy, this will scratch that itch and then some. Like a more adult version of Harry Potter. There isn't an overarching goal other than hang tight for six months and then get out of the school back to normality as of chapter 7, so come into the story more for atmosphere then expecting some save-the-world type story and it should be fine.
This is a wonderful story for anyone who’s fond of magic schools (and frankly, who isn’t?). The prose is crisp and the author really excels at characterization and dialogue. Each character has a defined personality and the chemistry between them is very compelling. The author has a talent for making characters stand out with just a few lines of dialogue/description (one example: “he […] gave the distinct impression of someone who, when he was old enough to grow a proper beard, would immediately shape it into a goatee”) hahaha
Plot wise, in the first chapter I was initially a little confused about what was happening (how did the Kayden break their leg? what happened to Matt?) but eventually things start coming more into focus. Chapter 2 takes off with a bang when a stranger appears to invite Kayden to the magic school (in fact I think Chapter 2 is possibly a better opening for the story).
Grammar/spelling were good overall, nothing jumped out at me, but on a semi-related I did notice there were some font shifts (between Chapters 2 and 3 and a sentence in Chapter 5).
Last, I think the title/cover could do a better job conveying the genre of the story. There's a pretty brisk market for Magic School stories, but I would never have guessed this was one of them based on the title/cover alone.
Overall, this is a GREAT story and you should definitely check it out.
For the first time since I started reviewing books on this site, I truly have nothing negative to say.
Style: The story is so well written. The pacing is perfect and the description is weaved flawlessly into the book. The dialogue is so realistic and well done.
Story: I’m only early on in the book but so far, this feels like a refreshing take on the magical school genre. Many people have already pointed out that this feels comforting to read and it absolutely does. That’s not to say that there isn’t tension or fast paced moments, it’s more that it is so well written.
Characters: Again, very good. Kayden (the main character) is wonderfully rounded. He isn’t perfect but he’s realistic. The author has a gift for writing realistic teenagers and realistic family dynamics. Immediately, I rooted for Kayden. His humour but deep seated fear about hurting people due to his curse really endeared him to me!
Grammar: No noticeable issues!
Overall, I think this is a great story that I will keep reading. The author excels at writing realism in a fantasy setting. The mystery surrounding the school and the curses will absolutely keep you coming back for more.
This story is excellent. The writing is very clean and perfectly fitting for a Young Adult book (I figure this is YA or middle age? That's what it seems like so far). The prose never overextends itself. It just does what it's meant to do.
While the magical school promise is rife with tropes, I feel like this is a sufficiently fresh iteration. It's definitely not a cheap Harry Potter knock-off. There are enough differences that it's compelling and I want to learn more about the world of the novel.
So far, the only thing I can say I would have liked more of from the book is some higher stakes. I don't feel as though I'm super invested in the story yet. I feel like there's a stark absence of conflict this far. Again, this isn't an objectively bad thing. Reading this story is like putting on a weighted blanket. It's comforting. Kayden as a protagonist is surprisingly rational, making decisions and saying things that I, as a reader, am thinking (I love the section where he calls the teacher out on his BS). Maybe it stems from the fact that there's no real antagonist yet (except for an inanimate curse)? Not sure. Maybe I just have to keep reading.
Overall, the story is great. I'll echo what another reviewer said, but you should consider seeking publication. It can be a painful, gruelling process, but there's a huge market for LGBTQ, YA fantasy—especially with an exceptionally written trans protagonist.
Overal Score 5/5
Note: I read up to chapter 4.
I have been on this site for about a month.
This is one out of three stories I have actually slowed down to read.
Most of them I skim through like a textbook until it catches my eye in prose, however for this one it isn't the case. For the first time in a long time I read a story with magic children, that wasn't Harry Potter and the Secret of Neville Long-Bottom's Trouser Zipper.
I suggest this to anyone who wants a good read to unwind with with a nice cup of tea.
Style Score 5/5
Most stories I read I have to go to about maybe the 5th chapter to see a developing style, but from this one it wasn't the case. It hit the ground running and I was able to clearly visualize the setting.
Not much to say here, other than relief I don't have to read errors that intterupt the reading expereince.
Story Score 5/5
This story does a good job at exposition without explaining things. Brava. I struggle with this and am quite jealous. By the end of the first chapter I already know the basics of the story. That there's a curse, a boy is being followed by the police, and that someone got hurt. It makes me want to know more, and its a good place to end a chapter to get people to keep reading.
Character Score 5/5
This part has a spoiler, so let me forewarn before you read this section.
I am a transgender man. Before I realized Kayden was transgender, I did not even realize it. It was hinted at in the story. Kayden was treated like the others. It wasn't said obviously. Why should it be? The other characters already know!
The registration chapter is great exposition, and shows the small and big parts of the hard parts of a transgender person's life.
It is also a great literary vehicle. Kayden can truly be Kayden in this new school. Good Job.
Please read this story. You won't regret it :)