For as long as he could remember, Sofia Yang was the closest thing Zach had to a mother. After having spent his youth bouncing from foster home to foster home, having a maternal figure take an interest in him was precious. When Sofia died, Zach felt the least he could do was follow through on her last wishes and take care of her sprawling estate. Part of that includes breaking an ancient family curse — and if the number of accidents that have occurred over the years at Sophia’s estate are any indication, the curse is very, very real. Knowing about the curse and experiencing it, however, are two very different things. Zach can rationalize mysteriously opening doors and a broken fountain that gets magically fixed. With a global pandemic raging and his personal grief over losing the person he cared about the most, a lot can be chalked up to stress. However, Zach cannot rationalize a terrifying monster that tries to attack the Yang family shrine. Nor can he explain why the stunning, white-haired man who saves Zach from being attacked feels so precious to him.
Jun Xiang was supposed to be the mandate from heaven. His family viewed him as sort of an ace-in-the-hole while his clan warred with another. But what power Xiang had was not the shock and awe his family assumed. It was far more subtle and of no use in active battle. His family did not simply exile him for his perceived failures, however. They cursed him to a half life. For hundreds of years, Xiang has been forced to exist in an alternate universe. Though he can cross into the mortal plane, doing so risks bringing terrible monsters into the real world. But it is impossible to completely shut himself into his alternate existence. For one thing, he is only marginally safer from the monsters there. For another, he knows that others have tried–and failed–to break the curse. And this time may be no different.
Heir to a Curse is the first book in Lissa Kasey’s Romancing a Curse series. It takes place at a rural estate home in upstate New York in the present day. Present, in this case, also includes the Covid-19 pandemic and frequent references to the various measures that have been utilized to mitigate the spread of the virus. There is a sprawling cast with Zach at the center. Supporting characters include Montana, a very young and very twink chef who I mistook as a possible love interest; Mr. Yamamoto, Sofia’s estate manager; Addy, Zach’s interior designer best friend, who also happens to own the studio apartment Zach called home until he inherited Sofia’s estate; and I suppose Xiang, the actual love interest. Then there are a host of smaller roles, like Sophia’s estranged family who at first seem greedy, but ultimately play the lynchpin in breaking the curse and like Zach’s construction buddies and the various construction-related connections he’s got.
With such a big cast, it felt like there was a lot of effort spent justifying their presence. During the days, Zach talks about renovations with the estate manager, Mr. Yamamoto, and talks about the renovations themselves with his construction team and his designer friend. On the one hand, it absolutely illustrates how work-oriented Zach is and helps build his character as someone who feels close connections, but still keeps people at arm’s length. On the other hand, I didn’t need to read the day-by-day descriptions of when the cabinets for the remodeled kitchen would be arriving or how Zach was friends with every local shop owner (or the odd exotification of the antiques shop owner).
This theme of repetition appears in Zach’s interactions with Xiang as well. But their interactions often revolve around teas and music before finally settling into physical closeness and existential dread as they start realizing how firmly Xiang is trapped by the curse.
The curse itself was also sort of a middling thing. It was exciting when Zach first starts to get an inkling that Xiang is real. Their interactions start off small. For example, just a tea set sitting out when it should not have been and Zach remembering that he dreamed of tea. While it was clear Xiang could only stay for a short while, there was never an explanation for why the man had to be hunted by monsters. For the monsters are very much searching for Xiang, both when he visits the human world and when he’s in his own alternate reality. Sure, being chased by any number of fantastical, dangerous creatures was exciting…but we never learn why Xiang’s people cursed him so terribly.
Overall, I thought this book was okay. The themes of lovers reunited and slow burn will be a hit with readers who go for those tropes. I thought the pacing dragged a bit and there was a lack of clarity around how the curse worked and whether or not magic was supposed to be real. But I enjoyed following Zach on his journey falling in love with the ultimate unavailable man and reading about his discovering a found family.