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I just finished The Ballad of Never After by Stephanie Garber, and I am left with a Jacks-shaped hole in my heart! The ending really got me (plus, I went into reading this book thinking it was a duology, so I was truly so surprised).
This series is a SLOW BURN, let me tell you. I had mixed feelings about the first book in the series, Once Upon A Broken Heart, but this second book really sold me on the series.
Do I think this is the best-written story of our generation? Hmm…nope! BUT it is really fun and silly, and if you like a young adult, slow-burn romance in a fantasy setting, this is the book for you!
There were tons and tons of fun twists in this book, and the ending left me with quite a few questions. So, let’s dive in to The Ballad of Never After, as well as my thoughts, theories, and predictions!
What Happens In The Ballad of Never After?
The Ballad of Never After is the sequel to Stephanie Garber’s Once Upon A Broken Heart, and it picks up right where the first book left off.
Evangeline, our pink-haired protagonist, has just found out that her husband (who she thought was dead) is, in fact, alive. He was actually just cursed by Jacks, a Fate who she thought was working with her but in truth had lied to her.
She’s feeling pretty betrayed by Jacks, and a little brokenhearted (hehe) because though she will not yet admit it to herself, she has developed feelings for the Fate.
Jacks reappears and tells her that he will lift the curse off her husband, Prince Apollo, if she uses her powers as a key to open the Valory Arch.
She is torn between wanting to right her wrong with Apollo and not wanting to help Jacks because his motives aren’t super clear and always self-serving.
However, much to Evangeline’s dismay, it appears that Apollo is under a second curse! A mirror curse between Evangeline and Apollo is discovered when a knife is run along Apollo’s arm, and that same exact cut is on Evangeline’s arm.
This basically means that any harm brought to Apollo will also affect Evangeline, and vice versa.
She visits her friend Lala (also a Fate, “The Unwed Bride”) to ask for advice on working with Jacks.
Lala, to Evangeline’s surprise, tells her not only that she should just go along with Jacks, but that she is also engaged to Lord Robin Slaughterwood.
When Evangeline returns to the palace, she is shocked to find out that Apollo is awake, and it appears he has had ANOTHER curse placed on him: the curse of The Hunter and the Fox.
Within this world, particularly the Great North, stories are never just stories, but there is always magic behind them.
In the curse of the Hunter and the Fox, Apollo is the hunter, Evangeline the Fox, and Apollo cannot rest until he has killed Evangeline.
This is where the story really picks up. Evangeline is forced to team up with Jacks and finally agrees to open the Valory Arch.
They must find the missing pieces of the Arch for it to open. Overall the main plot of this book is Jacks and Evangeline looking for magical stones that make up the missing pieces of the Arch.
Okay, general recap done! From here on out, this post will continue with major spoilers for The Ballad of Never After.
The Ballad of Never After Spoilers
So, do Evangeline and Jacks open the Valory Arch? Yes, Evangeline does indeed open the Valory Arch at the end of this book.
BUT let’s go over some of the more spoilery details that lead up to the opening of the Arch, and the chaos (pun intended) that ensues after.
So, after Apollo attacks Evangeline, Jacks takes her to Chaos’ vampire underground castle.
We spend an excessive amount of time here where the only thing that really happens is Evangeline having the hots for Jacks but also denying to herself that she does.
She also spends a lot of time in the library and learns about a couple of things that are important to the plot of this story.
She learns about The Merrywood Three, a trio of members of the Great Houses. This trio consists of Prince Castor Valor, Lyric Merrywood, and The Archer (who she believes is the original Archer from the balled of the Archer and the Fox).
Evangeline learns that these three were all friends and that after the death (murder) of Castor Valor, it is believed that the Valors created a monster to seek revenge on the Slaughterwoods. This is the same Slaughterwood family that Lala is promised to!
Evangeline believes Jacks to be one of these three but is not sure which one till the end of the book, where she finds out that Jacks, before becoming a Fate, was, in fact, The Archer!
Evangeline also learns that she is not the first pink-haired girl to fulfill the prophecy and have the magic powers of being a human key.
Chaos has one of the four stones that the first key girl found, but he says that she died. However, Evangeline finds out that this is not true when she meets the second key and she tries to kill Evangeline!!!
The end result of this is Evangeline murdering the other girl.
I’m not gonna lie, this section was very strange to me because there are almost no consequences to Evangeline murdering someone, and it felt very out of the left field to me.
Anyways, they finally leave on the search for more of the stones, and also to attend Lala’s wedding celebration! They believe that in the gathering of all the Great Houses, the stones will be drawn together.
This does prove to be accurate, and Evangeline is able to find two more of the stones and is now missing just the mirth stone. Evangeline overhears Jacks and Lala talking, and finds out that Lala is the one who’s placing the two new curses on Apollo.
After Evangeline murders the other key (there can only be one pinked-haired girl!!!), they must flee the castle. While they are leaving, Evangeline’s back starts bleeding, and they assume that someone is torturing Apollo.
Jacks takes Evangeline to The Hollow, a magical place where curses cannot reach so she can heal.
Jacks nurses Evangeline back to health (and touches her boobies)! This whole section of the book is very slow-burn, with miscommunication, and a little will-they-won’t-they sprinkled in there.
While Evangeline is in the Hollow, she is very happy and peaceful (and crushing very hard). Jacks leaves for a few days, though Evangeline does not know why.
We later find out that Jacks went to confront Lala about cursing Evangeline. When Jacks returns, he has a stab wound, and Evangeline takes care of him. Here is when Jacks BEGS Evangeline to stay the night with him.
Evangeline is very curious if the Hollow’s ability to nullify curses will also apply to the curse of Jacks kiss.
After a lot of stolen glances and flirting, Evangeline comes to the realization that the Hollow’s magic comes from the last missing stone, the mirth stone.
She then has a dream with a familiar handsome stranger and Lala where they tell her that Jacks has not changed and that the reason he is being so sweetie pie to her is just because of the mirth stone.
Because Evangeline also has the truth stone, she uses it to get Jacks to confess why he wants the Valory Arch open so badly, and it turns out he doesn’t even want the Arch open!
What he really wants from the stones is the power that they have outside of opening the Arch. Evangeline takes the mirth stone from the Hollow, and she and Jacks leave and return to Chao’s underground palace.
Evangeline is still unsure as to if Jacks could have feelings for her, but she is in a constant dilemma of wanting Jacks and wanting to be loved, which she feels she will find from Apollo.
Now that they have all the stones, Jacks tells Evanglaine what he wishes to do with the stones.
The magical stones, when all together, can send someone back in time to any point. This can only be done once, and then the stones will no longer have this power.
Jacks wishes to go back to before he had a relationship with Donatella. He also wishes to go back in time and never know Evangeline.
Evangeline is very heartsick over Jacks wanting to go back in time, but it is also at this time that he tells her that he is the Archer. Evangeline leaves with Chaos to return to Wolf Hall, where the Valory Arch is, leaving Jacks behind.
What Is Inside The Valory Arch?
Once the four magic, missing stones are returned to the Arch, Evangeline uses her key magic to open the Arch. Chaos goes inside, and Evangeline decides that she loves Jacks and she can cure his curse with the power of love.
She follows Chaos inside the Arch and…what’s inside the Valory Arch? Well, it turns out that both stories were true. It both was a prison and it held the Valor’s greatest magic: the Valor family themselves, not dead but locked away inside the Arch!
Once they awake, Honora Valor embraces Chaos, and we find out that Chaos is not actually Chaos but that he is Castor Valor.
Honora removes the helm, and Evangeline looks at his face. Castor/Chaos, being a vampire who has not eaten in hundreds of years, is overwhelmed by hunger and sucks Evangeline’s blood from her body!
Jacks at this time appears and takes Evangeline into his arms, but it is too late. She is dead…
Well, kind of the end. Jacks takes the four stones and goes back in time to meet Evangeline. He ends up repeating their whole journey leading up to Evangeline and Chaos leaving for Wolf Hall to open the Arch.
He tells Evangeline that she must leave as soon as the Arch is open and that Chaos will feed on her if she does not.
This time around, Evangeline does leave right away, and while she is leaving Wolf Hall, who does she run into other than her husband, Prince Apollo, who appears to be cured of his curses?
He embraces her, and she tries to push him away. Apollo tells Evangeline that all of this is Jacks fault and if he didn’t have this power over her that, she would see the truth.
He pins her down, and she tries to fight him off. She feels all her memories leaving her, Apollo stealing them from her.
The book ends with a very confused Evangeline and Apollo comforting her and reassuring her that she is now safe and sound and that he is her husband and true love. So, she remembers nothing!
So, we left off on a massive cliffhanger, and we somehow got through another whole book without a Jacks and Evangeline makeout sesh!
What a whirlwind of an ending! I liked this book so much better than the first in the series, Once Upon A Broken Heart. Though I do have some minor complaints about this book as well.
Evangeline and Jacks are in a constant state of getting injured and nursing each other back to health.
Though the trope is fun, and I get the lusting vibes Garber is going after by writing these scenes, it happens so many times between these two, it ends up feeling overused and a bit lazy.
I also think that there are so many plot points that are just too convenient and underdeveloped.
The whole stones subplot and the magic they hold felt rushed. I dunno, maybe I just didn’t care and skimmed some of the stone lore sections, but magic in this world tends to be a little too convenient to the plot for my taste.
I also found Evangeline to be a bit of a brat in the first book, but I liked her much more in book two! I still love Jacks because I am trash for an “I hate everyone but you” boy in a book.
I will be pre-ordering the third book, and I will rage if we don’t get the Jacks Evangeline relationship that has now been building up for two books!!!!!!
Do Jacks And Evangeline End Up Together?
As of now, no, Jacks and Evangeline have yet to officially get together.
Evangeline has admitted to herself that she is in love with Jacks as of The Ballad of Never After, but they have not told each other or kissed in either Once Upon A Broken Heart or The Ballad of Never After.
The build-up is REAL. Okay, Stephanie Garber, we are ready for the Evangeline and Jacks hookup chapter already.
Will There Be A Sequel To The Ballad of Never After?
Yes, there will be a The Ballad of Never After sequel! The third book in this trilogy, A Curse for True Love, is set to release on September 12th, 2023.
I cannot wait to see what these characters get up to in this third novel. There are so many unanswered questions left open in The Ballad of Never After. For example, why does Jacks eat all those apples?
I do have a few The Ballad of Never After theories of my own (hehe).
Lala references the copious amount of apples eaten by Jacks and tells him to ensure he has enough of them.
I think it’s safe to assume that they work as some sort of antidote against his curse. I would have to guess that it has something to do with his feelings toward Evangeline (and maybe how badly he wants to kiss her 😜).
Also, in the third book, it’s set up for Apollo to be the villain. He has been giving me the ick for two books, so I am excited to see Jacks truly go after him and get his girl back. If this series ends the same way as the Hunter and the Fox, I will rage…
We know very little about Prince Apollo except that there is a possible curse over him. Plus, there’s stories about him which can be proved by Donatella not being able to remember anything specific about the Prince either!
With his taking of Evangeline’s memories, it will be interesting to see just how much magic Prince Apollo contains.
So many loose threads! I’m very excited to see how they all tie together in the third book.
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