Flowerheart (Catherine Bakewell) – Book Review

Of all the micro-genres of book to emerge in the era of TikTok and #bookstagram, there’s none quite as quietly revered as ‘cosy fantasy’ or ‘cottagecore’. The genre envelops books that are on the lower end of the conflict scale, but whom are buoyed up by their reserves of sweet charm, pastoral gentleness, and appreciation for slow, bucolic living.

It only takes a cursory look at the trend to find key works, all but modern classics, emerging such as 2022’s Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree, in which an ogress retires from adventuring, sets up a coffee shop, and builds her own family in the process, or Julie Abe’s Eva Evergreen books which follow a teen witch as she helps defend a coastal town with her burgeoning magic and help stop a wider conspiracy.

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Soon set to join the canon is Catherine Bakewell’s Flowerheart, a sweetly imagined fantasy that sees young witch Clara (the comparisons to Klara Prast abound) make a deal with an old childhood friend and master wizard, after her floral-based powers see her accidentally curse her father with illness (Hanahaki disease-style).

Bakewell establishes a wonderful world within Flowerheart, immediately creating sympathy for Clara who has a turbulent relationship with her magic (a metaphor for Bakewell’s own struggles with depression) and with her childhood friend Xavier who has his own secrets to hide and with strong character arcs for both of them to traverse throughout the book. The premise is whimsical and sweet, just like that of a particularly winsome Ghibli movie, and Bakewell’s writing is strong enough to ensure that while the mood is overall sweetness and light, there’s enough deeper plot developments and revelations to help Flowerheart rise above becoming a saccharine mess, focusing on Clara’s journey into self-actualisation and stopping a magical endemic in their small town.

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The Studio Ghibli comparisons are certainly not without good reason, with such clear inspirations from the collected films to be found within the pages of Flowerheart. Clara’s magic is described as a burning coal within her chest, a neat parallel to Howl and Calcifer’s relationship in Howl’s Moving Castle, while Kiki’s tumultuous relationship with her flying magic in Kiki’s Delivery Service is echoed in Clara’s battle with her own capricious talents. This is all sublimely blended with a modern sensibility – two key recurring characters are trans and/or non-binary, while plenty of queer and non-white characters fill the supporting players out, allowing for their inclusion in spaces predominantly filled with a straight white cast of characters.

Striking the balance between a gentle yet engaging plot and sweet character development, Flowerheart rightly joins the cosy fantasy canon as a sweet, optimistic take on battling inner demons and finding the strength within. With enough lingering plot threads left over, despite a uniformly lovely conclusion, it’s safe to say that the discerning fantasy reader will be asking for more adventures from Clara and co., with this reviewer amongst them.

Flowerheart is out now from Harper Teen.

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