Cursebreakers

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Pub Date 12 Sep 2023 | Archive Date 09 Jan 2024
Red Hen Press, Canis Major Books

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Description

Adrien Desfourneaux, professor of magic, must survive his own failing mental health and a tenuous partnership with a dangerous ally in order to save the city of Astrum from a spreading curse.

Adrien Desfourneaux, professor of magic and disgraced ex-physician, has discovered a conspiracy. Someone is inflicting magical comas on the inhabitants of the massive city of Astrum, and no one knows how or why. Caught between a faction of scheming magical academics and an explosive schism in the ranks of the Astrum’s power-hungry military, Adrien is swallowed by the growing chaos. Alongside Gennady, an unruly, damaged young soldier, and Malise, a brilliant healer and Adrien’s best friend, Adrien searches for a way to stop the spreading curse before the city implodes. He must survive his own bipolar disorder, his self-destructive tendencies, and his entanglement with the man who doesn’t love him back.

Adrien Desfourneaux, professor of magic, must survive his own failing mental health and a tenuous partnership with a dangerous ally in order to save the city of Astrum from a spreading curse.

Adrien...


A Note From the Publisher

Author is a queer AAPI neurodivergent author, and the book focuses on a queer man falling in love while battling bipolar disorder and getting inextricably involved in a mysterious conspiracy.

Author is a queer AAPI neurodivergent author, and the book focuses on a queer man falling in love while battling bipolar disorder and getting inextricably involved in a mysterious conspiracy.


Advance Praise

“An absorbing meditation on curses and blessings, martyrs and saints—and a rare fantasy that recognizes that the mind is more mysterious and more vital than any spell. It is writers like Madeleine Nakamura who are going to bring us all into the next age of the world.”

Brian Conn, author of The Fixed Stars: Thirty-Seven Emblems for the Perilous Season

“Adrien’s narration was vivid, prickly, and compelling, and I loved the world she built around him, especially the beautiful names and terms, but also the institutional history of Pharmakeia and Curia (and Chirurgeonate), with the occasional, tantalizing glimpses of the wider world. And I admired the way she hung the plot together on the dual armatures of that institutional history and Adrien’s deeply flawed character.”

Katherine Addison, author of The Goblin Emperor

“An absorbing meditation on curses and blessings, martyrs and saints—and a rare fantasy that recognizes that the mind is more mysterious and more vital than any spell. It is writers like Madeleine...


Marketing Plan

Marketing: Pre-pub buzz-building campaign

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Publicity:

  • Major and expansive galley mailing campaign going out to 1000 reviewers, bookstores, and media
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  • Local author promotion: South Pasadena, CA
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Social Media:

  • Twitter: @mad_nakamura
  • Instagram: @madnakamura

Marketing: Pre-pub buzz-building campaign

  • Online marketing
  • Social media campaign
  • Targeted email marketing
  • Community outreach
  • Text-generated flash fiction campaign ahead of launch
  • e-newsletters...

Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9781939096128
PRICE $17.95 (USD)
PAGES 284

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Average rating from 66 members


Featured Reviews

“In my greater and lesser moments, I fear that I must be fated for sainthood.”

Holy crap this book was so good. I don’t know how else to put it, just wow. Everything I love about dark academia and adult fantasy was laid out in Cursebreakers so masterfully. The mental health representation across the board—particularly when it comes to our lead character—was so well done it had me in tears; Adrien has got to be one of my favourite protagonists ever. Thus is a truly impressive debut by Nakamura.

~★~ Characters ~★~

Cursebreakers follows Adrien Desforneaux, a magics professor with a dark past. Ridiculed by both his peers and students for a mistake he can never forget, Adrien’s mental health begins to fail him, with fits of akrasia and his ‘daemon’ tending to control him at the worst of times. When the military starts surveilling the academy on orders of a witch hunt, it becomes apparent that people across the city are falling mysteriously comatose. Adrien becomes immediately caught up in the conspiracy, with only Gennady—a young and broken soldier—posing as his reluctant ally.

────── {⋆★⋆} ──────

You know those books that hook you from the first line? This was definitely one of them. That quote above is the opening line of Cursebreakers, and in my opinion it establishes both a great sense of anticipation for the plot to come, and immediate intrigue towards the protagonist. I adored the almost pretentious quality to Adrien’s internal monologue, eloquent even when he felt like crumbling from the inside out. His almost self-destructive tendencies—paired with a keen sense of self-awareness—made it impossible not to root for his happiness and ultimate recovery. Nakamura does a spectacular job representing his mental health struggles (I was in so much pain) while leaving room for hope in the small moments that Adrien finds solace in friends like Gennady and Malise.

Characters are the lifeblood of every story I read. While Adrian alone was interesting enough to carry the weight of this story, I was almost equally as enraptured by Gennady. Having a young solider (who’s ideals should oppose yours) follow you around and pretend to hate you? While they’re actually kind of eager to be your friend? It is such a sweet dynamic. The initial hostility between them dissipates into a really beautiful friendship, like a platonic little enemies to lovers!!

Speaking of lovers….. there’s no real romance in Cursebreakers, but the unrequited love Adrian feels for his best friend is a constant throughout most of the story. It hurts so good, I felt tiny swoops in my stomach at some of the offhand lines Adrian thought towards him. The yearning. Wanting someone with your whole heart, knowing you’ll never have them…. I never knew the trope would hit me so hard.

This is an unexpected favourite for sure, but a new favourite nonetheless. Nakamura really did her thing… I’ll be looking out for her future works for sure!

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I picked this book up on a whim, solely because I was curious to see how the bipolar representation would be; I stuck with the book because it utterly captivated me.

Cursebreakers follows Adrien Desfourneaux, a (magic) professor caught up in a brewing conflict involving the military force known as "the Vigil" and his own fellow academics. It also details the way this impacts his already fragile mental health, as he fights to stave off both an episode and a relapse.

There are, of course, a host of other characters here: my favorite being Malise, Adrien's friend and healer, and my admittedly least favorite being Casmir, who plays the role of Adrien's part friend, part caregiver, and part unrequited love interest (all of which balances out to a toxic, enmeshed sort of relationship). Finally, we have Gennady, who I wish we'd learned more about - he meshes perfectly with Adrien's cantankerous but ultimately caring vibe, and we see Gennady plenty on the page, but much of his history is left vague despite the obvious story there.

I was extremely anxious about the mental health representation, having been let down before. Rest assured, however, that Cursebreakers does not disappoint. That isn't to say the world itself is free of pitfalls: there are plenty who are willing to throw Adrien's diagnosis in his face as an insult, and coming across a conspiracy when you have a history of grandiosity and delusion goes as well as one might expect. There's the rise and fall of a manic episode, the bone deep dread and exhaustion at the realization that it WILL happen again. Nakamura doesn't flinch away from the real world difficulty of living with bipolar disorder.

But there's explorations of more here too: support in the face of a relapse, the realization of relationships that rest upon equally caring for and balancing out one another rather than a system that relies on power imbalance to succeed, and Adrien's genuine desire to protect his friends and his city even at his bleakest.

Have I made it clear yet how much I enjoyed this book?

That being said, the story does feel unfinished, in a way - I don't know if the author plans on a sequel, given that the ending could absolutely serve as closure, but I hope she writes more in this world. I would love to know more about Gennady and his family (a plot thread that is introduced, but not explored), Adrien's recovery after this story, the city's attempts to rebalance itself after the finale, or truly whatever else the author would like to explore here.

As it stands though, this is an excellent debut, and one I'm rating 5/5 stars. I recommend Cursebreakers to fans of dark academia, Dragon Age 2 (the conflict between the Vigils/magicians very much reminds me of mages/templars, as does the way the Vigil recruits young and rewards compliance), and anyone looking for better representation of neurodiverse characters in fantasy.

Thank you to Netgalley and Red Hen Press for the chance to read this book; all opinions within this review are my own.

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My favorite, favorite, favorite facet of this book was the main character. Adrien is complicated, likable, a struggling hero, intelligent, witty, dynamic. One of my favorite main characters I've ever read - he was so memorable and carefully written.

*trigger warnings for mental health, self-harm, drug use, addiction*

I'm not able to comment on the bipolar rep in this book but the complexities of Adrien's mental health issues and how he struggles was written with incredible care and very relatable to me. I enjoyed the plot and I loved the strange, budding friendship between Adrien and Gennady. If you're in a good headspace to read a character struggling with the issues above (because they are heavily integral to the plot), this is a unique fantasy story with a fantastic main character I will be thinking about for a while now.

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<b><i>OH. MY. GOD.</i></b> you guys, it <i>aggrieves</i> me that this book doesn't come out until september, because it was so fucking good, and i desperately need to talk about it; i picked this up because it looked interesting and found one of the top two favourite books of the year. thank you to netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy. <i>cursebreakers</i> is vivid, deeply character-driven, intensely atmospheric, and an emotional rollercoaster of the best kind.

we focus on adrien desfournaux, a professor of magic. he's immensely flawed but also immensely likable and endearing to the reader - yes, he's smarter than everyone, somewhat of a narcissist, needy, and prone to poor decision making, all of which he readily admits. adrien is also bipolar, which factors heavily into the plot and his character. nakamura writes his voice and narration masterfully. adrien has a keen awareness of how his illness affects him and others, but he can't always follow through on what's best for him, and you see how his struggle with mania and depression affect his actions throughout the plot.

there's also gennady, the rude, impulsive, and angry young lieutenant who manages to endear himsef to both adrien and the reader, who's trying his best to be a better person, even if he doesn't always succeed. i loved their dynamic so much - it's two people who, despite their best efforts, end up caring deeply for one another, even if they're Bad at showing it.

one standout relationship was that of adrien and casmir, which at one point made me scream through my teeth. their heartbreaking dynamic and often tummultuous relationship isn't the focus of the story, and it's not really romantic, but <i>god</i>, i adored it so much, it hurt so good, and adrien's character development surrounding casmir and the complexity of that relationship was so well written.

the worldbuilding is so thorough and vivid as well -- it feels fantastical and familliar at the same time. i do wish there was a glossary at the end because i had trouble remembering the government system and everything, but figuring out what the fantasy counterpart to our real-world terms is fairly intuitive in the end. the plot comes at you with full force, bar some quiet moments of calm before the storm, and it's incredibly engaging; i couldn't stop reading, and when i was forced to stop reading, i couldn't stop thinking about this book.

if you liked <i>witchmark</i> by C.L. polk or <i>borderline</i> by mishell baker, <i>cursebreakers</i> shares a lot of similar elements with both books, or if you like dark academia and strange and sometiems painful but oddly endearing character dynamics. please read this book because i need to scream at someone about it. thank you

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A rare full five star rating!!

Cursebreakers is dark academia on point! Our lead, Adrian Desfourneaux, is the protagonist I didn't know I needed so badly in my life. A professor of magic who basically has the magic equivalent of BPD gets roped into a magic conspiracy. The poor thing is also dealing with unrequited love from his sponsor and has to wade through that, plus teaming up with his "enemy." Pile on a nice dose of drug addiction and Adrien is beautifully imperfect. I must also add extra kudos for having an adult, queer protagonist!!

The author has done a fantastic job of writing a mentally ill character with a complex diagnosis, and gives the reader an in depth view and understanding of his thoughts processes and the temptations around him. This is especially compelling as he walks the knife's edge between mania and depression, and I loved how the depression was represented with the daimon like it is a physical being (which is how my own depression feels).

This book is not for the faint of heart but it absolutely worth a read.

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"It's a wonderful feeling when the daimon cooperates with me. The sharpest joy in the cosmos, and a rage fit to kill."

Sometimes, you're lucky enough to know you're going to love a book from the very first paragraph. It's a rare feeling – especially when you can't know if the plot won't take any turns that will ruin the experience by the end of it. However, i got very lucky with "Cursebreakers".

Adrien Desfourneaux is a former healer with a dark past – his youthful experiments in attempts to eradicate akrasia, a mental illness he himself lives with, led to tragedy and destroyed the minds of his many patients. Having barely evaded witchcraft charges, he now teaches other young magicians how to hone in their talents. As he feels another episode build up and his daimon awaken, the institution he has dedicated his life to appears to be overtaken by a curse, as more and more students and soldiers fall into a comatose state, not unlike those adrien hurt years ago.

The build-up is slow. Nakamura takes care to establish the rules of the universe, the border between magic and technology, and build on the interpersonal relations. The world feels lived-in, revealing only bits and pieces of Adrien's past when he—as the narrator—sees it fit.

Speaking of Adrien himself, he is a wonderfully tragic protagonist. While there is a layer of unreliability, it's far more heartbreaking watching as the people he loves refuse to believe him based solely on his condition. While I can't say for certain whether this is good representation of bipolar disorder, Nakamura's depiction of akrasia and Adrien's shifts between manic and depressive states were convincing. The limitations of magic also made the universe's rules feel more realistic.

One thing I would've loved more of was the interpersonal relationships between Adrien and Malise and, particularly, Casmir. while this works perfectly as a standalone, part of me would love a prequel or a short story that delves more into the complicated feelings between Adrien and Casmir, especially given some of the things left unsaid in their fights.

The flowery prose and the archaic vocabulary won't work for some, but it's precisely the kind of writing style I love. It's a captivating mystery, with a painfully human cast of characters. September can't come soon enough so I can get my hands on a physical copy.

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Oh my god, so this was fantastic. I was interested in this for the bipolar representation, not really expecting the meaningful deep discourse we got. The mental health and neurodiverse discussions in a fantasy setting absolutely blew me away with how natural it felt to the main storyline. I also loved how Adrian was dealing with his mental health while everything else was going on. This was giving dark academia vibes raised to a more nuanced level.

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A flawless 5 stars! This is the best debut I’ve read this year!
I don’t even know where to start, I want to praise every single aspect of this book.

The worldbuilding checks all the marks: I can best describe it as a combination of steampunk and elemental magic (my friend joked it reminded her of Wizard101). I found it to be not overly info-dumpy; most of the concepts are just thrown around casually, as the characters are familiar with them, but they are intuitive enough to not pull the reader out of the story. If anything, they even give an immersive touch to the story.

The prose and pacing are 10/10. The book is told from the limited point of view of the protagonist, Adrien, and I really enjoyed his wit and the way he described the other characters. The characters, of course, and the relationship between them are the strong suit of the book. The friendship between Adrian and Malise, and later the budding friendship between Genady and Adrien were the highlight of the book for me, especially the way they contrast each other. The book also features a queernormative world with most of the cast being queer and has no main romantic relationship, which are big pluses for me.

The author doesn’t shy away from portraying the characters in a realistic way. They’re not perfect, they don’t advance the plot for ‘the sake of greater good’ and can be quite selfish in their reasons. The whole conflict of the book actually gets kickstarted because of Adrian’s feelings of guilt with a previous accident.

The only fault I can find with this book is that it’s too short and I need more. I am in desperate need of a sequel, and even though the main conflict is resolved by the end of the story, there are a few loose ends I’d love to see explored in further instalments.

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Welp, I have a massive book hangover now.

Cursebreakers is the story of a conspiracy between a group of magicians and a subset the military force that oppresses them. It's also the story of Adrien, a magician, professor and disgraced physician as he tries to navigate his akrasia (this world's equivalent to bipolar disorder), his guilt over the failed experiment that cost him his job and reputation and the complex relationships he has with the people around him.

I found this book to be, at times, emotionally devastating. And that's saying something with me - I got through the entirety of The Song of Achilles with barely an emotional flicker. There were some scenes that made me unbelievably sad and angry on Adrien's behalf, particularly when it comes to his relationship with Casmir, his "keeper" (a figure who takes care of him and has legal power over him during his episodes) and the man he's in unrequited love with.

While I appreciate that the author makes Casmir a complex character with both his flaws and his virtues, and while Adrien is certainly not without his faults, I have to admit it's been a while since I loathed a fictional character quite this much. He's a spineless, self-important coward and quite honestly I had more respect for some of the villains than I had for him.

Instead, I loved Adrien as a protagonist. He's an unconventional choice for the protagonist of a fantasy novel. He's neurodivergent, he's in his forties, and, despite being a very skilled magician, he's a non-combatant and never really learns to fight over the course of the novel. He's not equipped to deal with the situation he finds himself in, and he acts like it. He spends most of the book terrified. And this makes him one of the bravest fictional characters I've encountered in a while - he's scared, he's aware of the danger he's putting himself in, but he acts anyway.

The rest of the cast was similarly great. I adored Gennady, the young soldier who is Adrien's primary ally in unraveling the conspiracy. His relationship with Adrien is fascinating - they start out as natural enemies, and then slowly come to rely on and trust each other. Adrien eventually becomes something in between a mentor and almost a father figure for him.

Cursebreakers delivered on something I really wish we saw more of in fantasy: it's a story largely set in a magical school told from the point of view of one of the professors, and also depicts an (unconventional) mentor-pupil relationship from the point of view of the mentor.

There are some aspects of the book that might not be for everyone: I found the prose to be gorgeous, but it is archaic, which might put some people off, and the world-building, while complex and fully realized, only delivered enough exposition to allow the reader to follow the story, and no more. This didn't bother me, as I'm not someone who primarily reads fantasy for the world-building, and what we saw was fascinating enough for me. I particularly loved the approach to magic, which is treated as a science to be studied.

It's also not a flawless book. The pacing, in particular, was at times both too fast and too slow, with the intrigue/conspiracy plot not always merging perfectly with the character-driven aspect. However, I was enjoying the story and the characters too much to really be bothered by the occasional pacing issue. It's a stunning debut and will probably be one of my favorite books of the year.

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"In my greater and lesser moments, I fear that I must be fated for sainthood. Martyrdom, then, as they're so often one and the same."

[Review contains spoilers]

Sometimes you read the first chapter, or dare I say even the very first line of a book, and you just know that it's going to have a death-grip on you from beginning to end. After finishing the little prologue to Nakamura's debut Cursebreakers, I felt that exact way. This book is a wholly unique concoction - a fantastic amalgamation of mystery and steampunk, sprinkled with a dash of dark academia conspiracies and mental daimons. I loved every second of it.

➺ The plot: magic, mind control, and militarism

All is not right at the Pharmakeia, one of Astrum's foremost schools for the education of magicians. More and more of the Pharmakeia students are disappearing from its halls, only to show up again with a mysterious curse that leaves them in a comatose state. Meanwhile, the Vigil is becoming an increasingly overbearing military presence at the institution given the current tensions.

Adrien Desfourneaux is a Pharmakeia professor who is trying to run from the mistakes of his past while struggling daily with the precarious nature of his mental health. When the curse becomes increasingly entangled with his history as a disgraced ex-physician and the events that led to his downfall, Adrien becomes an unwitting participant in a struggle between forces much bigger than himself.

Cursebreakers is an engaging mystery. I did think the story was, however, more about the journey rather than the actual "whodunit" aspect. You get to know kind of early on who is partly behind the curse. It's really this gradual unraveling of events and the breadth of their reach that kept me hooked on the core plot.

➺ The setting: steampunk adult fantasy meets dark academia

The world of Cursebreakers is divided by those who possess magic (which is based on the elements) and those who do not. This is by no means a novel concept. It is, however, a lot less straightforward than it sounds. One of the big reveals in the book is that the people behind the Pharmakeia "curse" are experimenting on students and soldiers in an attempt to impart magic on them by breaking down the barriers of the mind. I found this interesting, as it implies that all people may be capable of magic. Various concepts related to the "mind" are also prominent themes throughout the book.

You get the sense that there is so much more to this universe outside of our little view of the Pharmakeia. That is always an impressive achievement for an author - to make a larger world feel expansive and lived in even though we are only shown a small glimpse of it. There are two empresses, complex tensions between opposing military and magical factions, brainwashed child soldiers who are mind linked to these canine-like beings called "raches," and witchfinders with mekhania eyes. Everything was so vivid even though Nakamura doesn't spend page after page on worldbuilding.

➺ The characters: peak enemies-to-frenemies

But when all's said and done, for me at least, a good setting and magic system can only get you so far. It's really the characters that elevate a story, and the characters in Cursebreakers were glorious. I absolutely loved our narrator, the magician Adrien Desfourneaux. It's been a while since I was this invested in a protagonist, and I liked that the POV character was a professor rather than a student in a magical school setting. Adrien is such an atypical and flawed hero. He's in his 40s, an academic professor rather than a fighter, and a man who struggles continuously with what appears to be bipolar disorder. His narrative voice is very distinct - rich in witty sarcasm but also with this underlying sense of crushing self deprecation. Adrien is fascinating in all his contradictions. He views himself as cowardly, but his actions continually speak otherwise. He views himself as solitary and aloof, but we see just how much he cares for the wellbeing of his students and his closest friends.

Adrien is also an unreliable narrator. We reach a point in the story where the people around him question whether or not the things that transpire are real or a fictitious byproduct of his illness, and even we begin to doubt how much of what he is conveying to us is not clouded by his state of mind. Seeing how the spiraling events takes a toll on Adrien's mental health and the way in which his friends and even the reader doubts him because of his illness was particularly devastating.

The other character we spend a lot of time with is the bloodthirsty Vigil soldier Gennady Richter. Like Adrien, he also is an incredibly fascinating individual. Gennady is rude, impulsive, and extremely unpredictable. Also a little bit too eager to solve problems through murder brute force. Throughout the story though we see how the people around Gennady from his sister to his unit captain constantly view him as monstrous and unfeeling, and it was really interesting watching him do his best to reject this part of him and be good. It's easy to root for Gennady on his journey towards being a better person.

Honestly, Nakamura really hits it out of the park with the interactions and the bond that develops between Adrien and Gennady. Their friendship was 100% the highlight of the book for me, and I'd say that it's one of the best "enemies-to-frenemies" I've read in a while. The way they balance each other out and their searing quips were all at once fascinating, entertaining, and surprisingly...heartwarming. In the first half of the book Adrien is constantly reeling in Gennady and his violent tendencies, but by the second half when Adrien is the one about to do something unwise Gennady is just like "whatever" *eye roll* but then immediately goes to stop him out of concern. Peak platonic mentor-student relationship, I love them both, A+++ 👌

The side characters also were so good. Malise is Adrien's best friend and doctor, a literal angel, and just a genuinely good person. We could all use a Malise in our lives. Casmir I wanted to punch in the face. His dynamic with Adrien was so toxic and there were just too many red flags. He kept accusing Adrien of being cruel to HIM when honestly I think Casmir was the cruelest character in the story. Even more so than some of the villains. Casmir definitely gave me those gaslighting vibes and he was seriously a load of ICK. I'm very glad Adrien was starting to move on by the end of the book, as he deserved so much better.

All this to say that the incredible cast of characters really makes this book special. Cursebreakers is an impressive debut and standalone fantasy that likely will be one of my top reads of the year.

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What a wonderful book ! A complex but relatable lead character and fully formed back up characters. The world is rich and flawed just like real life, so is more believable. This grabs you from the opening line, which has to be the best one in years. The depiction of mental health issues feels real and done with great compassion.

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Beautiful portrayal of found family, deep friendships, courage in dark times and how we all make a difference even though we may have mental or physical hinderances.

The description of depression/anxiety/mental health disorders is exquisite and felt very familiar to me.

Absolutely loved this story and will read whatever else this author puts out.

“Fear does the strangest things to you. It hunts and haunts every person differently…”

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Whew. Cursebreakers is one of the best books I've read in years. Even this early in 2024, I'm confident it'll be one of my favourite things I read this year.

Professor Adrien Desfourneaux is a magician and a disgraced physician, following an incident that left patients under his care in a coma. Now, much later, new people seem to be falling into a similar coma -- and of course he wants to help. When he uncovers a conspiracy causing these comas, he is desperate to do what he can to help... but as someone with bipolar disorder, even his closest friends and confidantes are more likely to dismiss the very real and dangerous conspiracy as delusions and hallucinations. Even so, Adrien can't turn his back on it, even if the only person on his side was the one who first came to him with the conspiracy: a very damaged and dangerously sharp-edged soldier, Gennady.

It's so, so well written -- it's hard for me to believe this is a debut (though it is) and I found myself making comparisons in style and how well the twists and turns were handled to more storied authors such as Katherine Addison and Max Gladstone. Adrien is an incredible character, believable, aching, flawed, and so deeply good even when he can't find it in himself to be kind. It's intense, and rough, but I was fully able to believe in that inherent goodness and the willingness of the narrative to carry it through ... even if it was likely to hurt along the way.

If you like dark academia and magic, look no further. If you're here for queer characters who are flawed but trying hard, here's a book for you. If you care about seeing mental health conditions portrayed well, without either understating how thorough they affect one's daily life or demonizing that fact, grab this book. If you just want a thrilling conspiracy, yeah, grab it.

I can't wait to reread this one on a yearly basis.

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