Title: A Curse of Roses
Author: Diana Pinguicha
Genre: YA, Fantasy, LGBTQ+
Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)
Description: 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.
Based on Portuguese legend, this #OwnVoices historical fantasy is an epic tale of mystery, magic, and making the impossible choice between love and duty…
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POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD
Trigger Warnings: Homophobia, Internalized Homophobia, Self-Harm, Eating Disorder (Most of this is done in the name of religion)
Diana Pinguicha's A Curse of Roses is an LGBTQ fantasy novel written by an #ownvoices author. The book portrays a Portuguese sapphic romance that is important on many levels to the community. At its heart, A Curse of Roses is a love letter to the history of queer people that have always existed. It reminds us that we are not a modern marvel but rather a consistent part of the narrative of the past. Diana Pinguicha's story and truth are sprinkled throughout from the author's notes to closing statements. They bring more meaning to an already impactful story.
Yzabel's 'curse' that allows her to change food to flowers leaves her starving for a much different reason than her people. She is selfless as she knows the hunger facing the country she resides over. She experiences it every day as a side effect of her 'curse'. It allows her to empathize with them, even if their circumstances are different, because of their shared pain.
The curse of roses is incapacitating Yzabel when she refuses to accept it as the blessing it is. Yzabel is constantly in a tug of war with her gift as she desperately tries to deny its existence and debates whether it is a blessing or a curse. Diana Pinguicha drives a dagger into the reader as the story recounts the tragedies Yzabel's 'curse' enacts on her life as a result of her denial. The reader can taste the acid of the flowers and feel the sting of rose thorns. It forces her to hide her slow torture for fear of exile or banishment for a crime she can't control.
The Enchanted Moura, Fatyan, shows her what a blessing her gift is. Her gift is not of increasing hunger but rather transformation. It isn't meant to be wasteful but rather replenishing. She was meant to be a champion for her people, even if it means defying tradition. Denis, Yzabel's betrothed, is a king out of touch with the world atop his ivory tower while Yzabel works to bridge the gap between him and his people
A sapphic romance between Fatyan and Yzabel is akin to a soothing hum running through the book's veins. It thrums pleasantly through whatever conflict arises. From their very first kiss, done out of what Yzabel proclaims to be a mere duty, there is a connection between the pair that is unlike any other.
Yzabel is steadfast in her convictions, some for better and some for worse. Internalized homophobia is the greatest punishment faced by Yzabel. It outweighs every lashing she gives herself in the name of a God she believes would condemn her. I enjoyed reading about Yzabel's thoughts of God and her belief in him but her wanderings of what good he is if he lets people starve and condones the prejudice of the church.
Sensitive topics such as religion, self-harm, and eating disorders are approached with a gentle compassion that is well done. Diana Pinguicha brings reflection into utter clarity. The book reminds us of the burdens of sacrifice for a greater purpose than our own. Whether it be a sacrifice of love, freedom, or autonomy.
Magic in the world is precarious and fragile. It encompasses everyone but balances on a needlepoint. A mixture of magic and harsh reality collide to allure the reader. There's a commentary on circumstances out of our control and our struggle with that reality. The book confronts the hypocrisy of our views of magic and its source being deemed unholy instead of a God-given gift. Magic is treated in much the way of humanity, with suspicion and doubt. It takes brave women to show the error in that way of thinking.
Characters are unconventional but more fully fleshed than any other you'll read. They walk a fine line between strength and vulnerability. Somehow, with every character, they contain depth and dimension while also remaining balanced. The characters are all matte against the pages but the reader can't help feeling a connection to them.
Readers feel even the most minuscule of emotions the author conveys. They swoop you under and envelop you in a world unlike your own. The author writes delicate beginnings like fine silks. Intimacy can be found in even the most basic of moments. Written in the pages is a complex extrospection to the narrative.
The book is broken up into clearly defined parts that usher the reader through page after page to chase their conclusion. It is constantly restructuring itself in a way that implores the reader to continue on for the next awaiting change. Dramatically, the book morphs from one part to the next. The author's writing knows where to halt for impact and when to gloss over sections that are less crucial.
Diana Pinguicha rightfully makes a place in history for women who love other women. Actually, she doesn't make a place for them, they have been around since the beginning, but she brings them out of the shadows. Women who don't feel attraction to men, sahiqa, make powerful statements and further illuminate their place in a history intent on erasing them. The author reminds us that being shunned into secrecy does not mean we don't exist.
In A Curse of Roses by Diana Pinguicha, the author spins an authentic tale that reminds us of queer people's place in history - defining it even when we were forcibly hidden in the shadows. She reimagines a story of what could have been and currently is. There is no doubt that this story brings together the very humanness of being gay at any time, past or present.
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