Content Warning: Suicidal Ideations, War Trauma, Violence, Gore, Human/Fae Experimentation, Language, Sexual Content, Mentions of Sexual Assault, Enslavement, Dismemberment, Abuse, Death
If you’re looking for an intense, dark, and war-torn story with slim chances and fierce romance, then The War of Lost Hearts trilogy is for you.
Carissa Broadbent weaves a bloody story about war, survivor’s guilt, and vengeance. This is a brutal story about rising up against harmful leaders, always having an option, pushing for what you want, and loving each other.
If you’re wanting to follow Tissanah and Max as they navigate their way from the bottom of the barrel to the top if only to help those they love and give people freedom, while the Fey want to take down humanity for the atrocities they’ve inflicted on their race centuries prior, then strap in.
We’re talking about multiple rebellions, shocking betrayals from those closest to the characters, and powerful magic beyond belief. You’ll experience grief, utter disbelief, and happiness in the small things as you travel with these characters through their story.
It’s so hard to put into words the way this series will affect you and how much you will enjoy the journey. It’s dark, and I can’t emphasize that enough. Please look at my listed content warnings because it’s not for everyone.
But gods-damn, you need to read this series. You won’t regret it.
- Incredible world-building and character development
- Enticing and heart-wrenching plot
- Healthy friends-to-lovers romance (slow burn)
- Consistent side characters
- Morally gray characters, including villains
- Picks up right after the previous books
- No map
- May be too gruesome/traumatic for some readers
- Too many negative events with no reprieve
Talk about a riveting and brutal plot. The War of Lost Hearts trilogy will have you on the edge of your seat before introducing a whiplash of a plot twist that will have you reeling for days.
This storyline is dark, and I don’t mean it in a romantic way. We’re talking dismemberment, torture, whipping, sexual assault mentions, etc. Sometimes the book is hard to read and can be overwhelming with all the negative events all the time with no upside.
But this also makes the success and the positive events so much brighter. Broadbent shows the reader just how gruesome people and war can be. It’s not pretty, it’s not heroic, it’s dirty and blood-stained.
There’s one thing I mainly want to discuss about the plot that I think is looked over. Broadbent gives us a history where humans are attacking Fey over 500 years ago. We see our beloved characters fucked over time and time again. We see war and power-hungry people strip the land and its people of peace multiple times.
And this is what all of our characters have in common. They are experiencing these events, living and surviving them. They all want peace, to protect their people, and vengeance for the wrongs wrought onto them.
With this history and build-up, Broadbent shows us 4 different scenarios of how different people handle different situations.
Using the chart above, I figured out how each character approached and handled their vengeance and wrath in the series.
- Lawful Evil: Nura
- Nura has an organized and secretive way of gathering information, planning her attack, and approaching the upcoming war. She sticks to the laws of the Orders and plots below the radar, so no one knows what she has planned nor whose side she’s on. While her methods are organized and thoroughly thought out, her actions progress into evil, like experimenting on the Fey.
- Neutral Evil: Caduan
- For the most part, Caduan stays out of the war. He instigates it from afar and uses others to do his dirty work because he doesn’t want to waste Fey lives. However, he is still evil because he aims to decimate the human population and his intentions are dark and destructive.
- Chaotic Evil: Aefe
- Do I even need to explain this one? Aefe is all wrath and destruction. Though she starts learning she doesn’t have to be, her main approach is to burn everything that hurts her or the people she loves. No preparations, no planning, just burning. Aefe kills because she loves it and there is no rhyme or reason for her destruction for most of the series.
- Neutral Good: Max & Tissanah
- Now, these two are each in a different alignment for their personalities, but their approach to the impending doom is the same: save as many lives as possible. This can be seen when Zeryth demands both of them conquer territory and display power. Tissanah decides to put on a show that was make the enemy retreat and kill as few as possible. Max follows in her footsteps by methodically taking over the city he is in. They are maliciously compliant but in the goodest way possible.
It’s fascinating how everyone has the same goals and similar motives but goes about achieving those goals differently. All with different outcomes too. I fucking love it.
In the end, the overall plot is exquisite and masterfully done. Broadbent put some work into this series, curating the characters, dropping breadcrumbs, and just breathing life into this horrific and wonderful world.
I cannot find the words to accurately describe the depth and detail Broadbent put into this story, but I constantly think, “this is what the world of Lord of the Rings feels like.”
Something Broadbent does exceptionally well is creating characters that you connect to; whether it be to their mission, their personality, or trauma. She makes you understand their motives and alliances, regardless of how peaceful or horrific they may be.
She does this with her villains too, and it’s amazing to see how complex and 3-dimensional they become. They aren’t just a monster to defeat, they are people who became monsters. And Broadbent showcases all sides.
Then there are her consistent minor characters, like Sammerin. These are characters that maintain their personality, motives, and dialog throughout. These minor characters create a sense of stability and comfort knowing that they’re still around and supporting the main characters.
I also simply adore Tissanah and Max’s relationship. It’s healthy and supportive. They have fun times and even hard times, like working through trauma, healing wounds, or even being separated from each by force.
These two are goals and it’s so refreshing to see such a couple in fantasy novels. Usually, there’s always that one “bad guy” that’s good, but even their tendencies are toxic. Nothing like that is really found here. And even when something toxic or troublesome pops up, it is addressed by the two of them.
Tissanah is a bundle of brute force, determination, and self-sacrificing. These all work in her favor and against her at times, but she never gives up. She strives to provide freedom to all enslaved people like her.
She gives up everything to save these people, and even when they are in Ara, she doesn’t stop. She continues to fight and aims to dismantle the slave system in Threll. Tissanah is truly admirable when it comes to this. I just hate that she had to become a slave to Zeryth and Nura to achieve this goal.
As the story progresses and she leans into her love of Max, Tissanah starts to become selfish in this love and her own happiness. And that’s okay! That’s what I want to see. She deserves to look to the future with someone, she deserves to be loved easily, and she deserves to selfishly put Max above all other things. Because he’s her support and everything she loves.
We watch Tissanah go from being fully selfless to cradling those she cares about closely and selfishly choosing them over their goal.
Truth be told, I don’t have much else to say about Tissanah. She’s undeniably brave and even compassionate despite her circumstances. She aims to save lives instead of taking them, especially those who are innocent.
Tissanah is overall a beautiful character that deserves all the love and compassion in the world.
Max’s growth is one of my favorites in the series. Max, for me, is a very relatable character. I love his tone and how he expresses himself, even if he isn’t good with words. His actions say everything.
When we meet him, he’s a grumpy hermit in the mountains who wants nothing to do with another living being, besides Sammerin.
But as he gets to know Tissanah, the spark of hope reignites in him. He starts dreaming of a better future, for the Orders, with Tissanah, and everyone else. He puts his faith 100% in Tissanah and knows that she will conquer whatever it is she has set her mind to.
On top of his personality growth, Max also faces the demons of his past, mainly killing his family due to Reshaye. The way this story was contiguously brought up through the series, sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes not, is a great depiction of how traumatic events affect and shape us.
It has been years since the death of his family, but he still blames himself and can’t face what has happened. It isn’t until Brayan comes along, and sees his family’s features that he starts to make amends.
Max is a wonderful character that I cherish because we don’t see many male main characters like him in fantasy romance books. The trope is mainly enemies to lovers, but he became friends with Tissanah first before anything, and that I simply adore.
Aefe/Reshaye is hands down one of my favorite characters in the series. She is so misunderstood and lost that when she reaches out to connect, others recoil because she isn’t sure how to bond with a person properly.
I wish someone had taken the chance to get to know her as Reshaye, she was sentient after all! Tissanah was the only one who attempted to communicate and talk with her; and I wonder: what would have happened if they had gotten the chance to really know each other and bond? How would the story change?
Aefe did not deserve anything that happened to her. She deserved to lead a happy life with Caduan and heal from her past. She deserved to have her sister and mother love her. She deserved so much, but it was ripped away from her (literally).
Aefe is justified in her rage and her desire for vengeance. But to see her grow into a more compassionate and curious person once she got her body back was beautiful.
I loved watching her go from the mindless, vengeful, and selfish monster that was Reshaye, to a creature curious about the world, and to having her own body and getting acclimated to it. Aefe might have hated being alone in her new body, but to watch her slowly give in to her desires for Caduan and her enjoyment of tasty food and music is so uplifting.
This all truly gives you the impression that everything might be okay for her.
How wrong that could be.
In the end, her death felt right. Aefe finally learned what it meant to love and be selfless, and she gave that all to Caduan. Together they changed the world for the better instead of the destruction they were initially leading it into.
Aefe finally got her piece after centuries of torture. She finally created her own story that wasn’t muddied by her past. And she finally got to be with the one she loves.
Sammerin is such a constant and steady character that you can rely on. He is literally the backbone of the entire series.
Think about it. It if wasn’t for him healing Tissanah and Max all the time, those two would be dead by the end of the first book. He has stitched everyone back together, stopped Tissanah from killing everyone when Reshaye took over, and prevented enemies from moving on multiple occasions.
And what does he get in return? He gets ripped away from his practice on multiple occasions, and forced to flee for his life when Max ran for Arch Commandant–which he wasn’t even aware of until the last minute.
He is just used and abused. Sammerin deserves better.
But I will acknowledge that he willingly accept most of these events and chose to travel with Max and Tissanah. So, I guess I can’t be too mad about it.
I enjoyed Caduan. He is a strong and compassionate leader toward his people. He just went down the extreme path when choosing how to handle his vengeance.
He had so much potential, but it was muddied by vengeance for his people and Aefe. He might have been a great King over the last 500 years, but it was shadowed by these poor choices in the end.
Regardless, I loved his character and cried over both of his deaths. Caduan deserved so much better and so much happiness.
Regardless of how hard he tried to make things right, his hands were soaked in the blood of his past. He will always be viewed in a mistrusting and negative light, instead of a positive one.
He is trying to change, but the fact he gave over Aefe, didn’t tell Caduan for 500 years (while serving on his council), and only decided to change things when his son was threatened is distasteful.
If it was not for Ishqa, none of this would have happened. Aefe wouldn’t have been tortured, Max’s family would still be alive, neither Tissanah nor Max would be pawns to the Orders, and there wouldn’t be a bloody war between humans and Fey!
He can never be forgiven or redeemed.
Nura had such a noble goal with good intentions starting out, but she quickly derailed when she began forcing others onto Reshaye and conducting experiments on the Fey.
The worst part (or best part for a successful villain) is that I understand her drive and the reasoning behind her actions. I mean, hell, what would you do if faced with such a powerful force and very little information? She handled it the only way she knew how. I’m not trying to justify her actions by no means, but it makes sense how she came to the conclusion that she did.
All of this is what makes Nura a fucking amazing villain, probably my favorite villain. She starts off as a friend/ally-ish and subtly turns into the villain. We watch her slow descent into madness, wondering where it will take her and what her motives are.
And by the final book, the results of that spiraling descent are disturbing, to put it mildly. But her end is swift and just, something I can’t say for how she treated others.
This is a man who schemed, tricked, and lucked his way into power. If it weren’t for Nura being injured, Max a mental mess, and the fourth candidate dying, Zeryth never would have been Arch Commandant.
When he was, he schemed and tricked his way into the crown by leveraging connections with others and pulling as many strings as he could. But even then, he didn’t feel powerful.
Zeryth never truly felt threatening, either. He was intimidating, but not threatening to the point I had to worry about the characters’ lives–well besides Tissanah’s. He set the groundwork to allow Nura to run, and that is probably the most threatening thing he did.
This trilogy has some of the most exceptional villains I’ve ever read.
Morally gray? Check ✅
Likable? Check ✅
Understandable motivations? Check ✅
Through the series, regardless of who the villain is, Broadbent shows us their motivations and what drives them. And 9 times out 10, they’re understandable, in a weird, twisted way.
For both Nura and Caduan, I completely understand why they want to attack and destroy each other: for the survival of their people and for vengeance for the horrific acts done to them.
This alone makes it so hard to wholly hate these characters. I care for these characters, I care about their well-being and hoped against their downward spiral. They have depth, they love, they experience pain, and they have flaws.
These villains could be any one of us under the right circumstances. We never know how we will act with faced with annihilation or retaliating against someone who has hurt our loved one, given that you have all the power of a kingdom.
Point of View (POV)
The way Broadbent curated specific tones and views for her character’s chapters, was wonderful to read. You get all sides of an issue with different takes, feelings, and motives.
I specifically love Max’s point of view. He was so relatable in his internal dialog and reaction to events, like: “I’m not made for this.”
Even Aefe’s point of view towards Tissanah and Max. She believed they abandoned her and used her. While on the flip side, both Max and Tissanah saw Aefe as a monster or volatile force. Max demonized Aefe, but Tissanah tried to understand her.
They never knew each other’s thoughts and feelings toward each other, but the reader saw it, and that created some heart-wrenching moments. I think having these three POVs with conflicting emotions towards each other creates a deep connection to the characters and story.
In the second book, Children of the Fallen Gods, Broadbent connects the past to the present and the characters to each other by weaving parallels into the story. We can see this from the minor sounds of thousands of magic-sensitive butterfly wings in Aefe’s time to the one pinned to a board in Tissanah’s time.
She also uses this past-to-present connection when Aefe, Tissanah, and Max’s stories converge at the place where it all began: the island Ishqa surrendered Aefe on.
And it is through these parallels that Broadbent is able to provide a mental map of where everyone is in the third book, Mother of Death & Dawn. She provides cardinal directions to a city in one chapter, and in the next one, a character is in that city or not far from it.
It is so fun seeing how the puzzle pieces fit together and seeing how Broadbent ties all the characters together, even if they are scattered.
There are so many themes that are explored in this series. From processing trauma to survivor’s guilt to enjoying a happy moment in the middle of a war. These themes cultivate and shape the world and characters. These themes are vital to their story, their actions, and their success.
So, let’s take a look at a few of the major themes:
- Processing/facing trauma & mental illness
- Survivor’s guilt
- A thin line between morality and duty/vengeance
The main characters– Aefe, Tissanah, and Max, encompass all three of these themes, but all in different ways. We watch them struggle to overcome their survivor’s guilt and trauma, and we watch them figure out how far is too far when handing out justice.
Like when Tissanah was burning Lady Zorokov. She was being immoral to herself and her values, but the part of her that was tormented and hurt by Lady Zorokov is raging with pleasure. Instead of giving into those dark pleasures, Tissanah, instead, gives Lady Zorokov a quick death.
However, we see the opposite in Nura. Instead of talking with the Fey she captures and trying to learn about their race, she captures them and runs experiments in order to harness their power. Hell, we even see her cross the line of being immoral but doing her duty to her country when she buys slaves to fight in her war. She is giving up her own values to protect her country, and thus sends her down a dark and power-hungry, desperate path.
I could go on with how Nura encapsulates this one theme so well, but I’ll leave it there since we talked about her earlier.
The foreshadowing is utterly stellar in all three books. Questions we had in book #1 based on bread crumbs are answered in book #3. Connections to events between characters, past and present, are revealed over time, and sometimes in minute ways.
For example: Ilyzath
Ilyzath is mentioned in book #1 as being a mysteriously sentient prison. It’s in every book and we get the sense that it is something more, but not sure exactly what it is. Broadbent leaves the tiny crumbs into her lead-up of Ilyzath being a Lejaras, and it was beautifully done.
We also see subtle foreshadowing in Tissanah asking Max if he wants to find his brother in book #2, and in book #3 he shows up.
Even with the back and forth of book #2 between Aefe and the present day, in Max and Tissanah’s chapters, we see small glimpses and parallels of Aefe’s world. While we have the sense that Aefe is somehow connected to what Tissanah and Max are going through, Broadbent hides the lead well, creating a shocking twist. But we were prepared.
- The way learning a new language was implemented in book #1 is stellar. From the mispronunciation, the grammatically incorrect sentences, and even the reactions from others are wonderful. It is such a nice touch to be able to experience learning the new language with Tissanah and Max.
- I need more information on the Stratagrams and Wielders. What are all the different kinds of powers wielders can use? Who created Stratagrams?
- The series could have been 6 smaller books, but I’m happy it wasn’t. I loved having another half of the book to answer the questions and push the plot forward from the first half.
- The massive world-building is impressive and so well done!
- Progression of Threll (from a slave state to a new nation claimed by the enslaved)
- Different government setups for both Ara and Threll based on their citizens and needs
- The complex layers of magic at play
- History of the Orders and how it has changed over the years
- The book covers of Tissanah don’t match the description of her in the book. She has white and black hair in the book, but white and blonde on the covers. It bothered me a bit, but not too badly.
- I so wish there was a map for this series. It would have made tracking the characters and keeping up with events so much easier, especially in book 3, Mother of Death & Dawn.
In the end, The War of Lost Hearts is fucking amazing. It’s brutal and beautiful and captivating in the best (and worst) ways possible. I love the storytelling, the characters, and the complex world-building. Broadbent is a master at her craft and I am so looking forward to reading more books by her!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go cry and try to find fanart of this series because there isn’t enough out there!
Recommended Book Series
- A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas
- From Blood and Ash by Jennifer Armentrout
What did you think of the book? Did you like it or could you have done without it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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