There will be spoilers for the manhwa series A Tender Heart: The Story of How I Became a Duke's Maid.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to child abuse, violence, murder, torture, and sexual assault as it appears in the manhwa.
Liandro is a young boy in a novel, fated to live his life with a painful curse that has destined him to a life of misery, loneliness, and pain. However, the novel's entire plot is turned upside down when an avid reader, Liandro-stan, ends up waking up as a character in the story. Unfortunately, though, her role is relatively insignificant as one of the many maids caring for Liandro's household. This particular maid, Evelina, knows something everyone else in her world doesn't: she knows how the novel plays out and is determined to fight against fate.
Easier said than done, though, as she must break through the cold exterior young Liandro has been forced to put up with as his parents abandoned him, the maids in the house fear him, and he is in unending pain from a curse no one understands. Evelina is up for the challenge, though. Even if she can't save Liandro from his fate, she is determined to give him all the love he has missed out on and make his life as happy as possible. However, as the years go by and Liandro grows closer to Evelina, what would make him happier than anything is to keep her by his side. Is such a thing possible for a lowly maid when Liandro could be destined for bigger and better things?
This is a really sweet one. The art is nice, not perfect by any means, but there are some really pretty moments, and the story is super solid. It's perfect for anyone who likes the standard reincarnation/born into another world scenario. This one is fairly unique in that the male lead is actually younger than the female lead, which I don't feel I often see, especially in fantasy-based stories. It did create somewhat of a weird dynamic, though, where she plays a mother figure only to become a love interest as Liandro ages. It is another one of those weird Oedipal complex moments that I am not too fond of. Admittedly, it might be because I am just not used to seeing the woman be the older one in the relationship (even though I am actually older than my husband, which I know makes zero sense).
I do need to take a moment to praise the side stories included in this one. I adore when pregnancy and child-rearing are included in my manhwa; though my preference is for it to be part of the main story, I'll take what I can get. I do wish the pregnancy had been more prominent, but the fact that we got to see any part of it was pretty nice. It was great seeing Liandro go from a child himself to a father and a doting husband. We also get pretty far into the lives of the children, and we even get to see some romance from the future generation, which was a really nice treat.
But let's get to the meat and potatoes of the whole thing: the main story itself. Liandro is adorable from the jump but quickly grows into my type (at this point, though, what does that even mean? Every male lead is my type, it seems). It was beyond satisfying to see the slow burn of Evelina tearing down the walls of an abused and terrified child to show him that he is worthy of being loved. This is not one of those stories where the love starts immediately, which I personally like. Instead, we get to see the gradual change and growth of their relationship, caused mainly by the development of Liandro's character as he ages and grows closer to Evelina.
However, one thing this does suffer from is the whole “I'm not good enough for him, I am getting in the way of his destiny” trope, which leads to Evelina leaving Liandro for a short time. I did actually enjoy this a bit, as it gave us a chance to see how Evelina is away from Liandro and develop her character outside of his sphere. It, thankfully, wasn't a wasted arc just for the sake of causing tension, though it did fulfill that. This is also where we officially meet the third male lead; well, we actually see him earlier on, but Evelina doesn't fall into his crosshairs until this section, and he is fine. I am all about black-haired male leads (Liandro) and almost equally attracted to red-haired male leads (Diego). This work has beautiful men, Liandro especially, so if that is your preference for male leads, you won't be disappointed here.
One thing that is super fun about this one is the downfall of the original female lead. Originally, Eleonora was supposed to garner the attention and affection of Liandro and Diego. However, she ultimately ends up with the crown prince Diego to become empress and forge peace between her home kingdom and Diego's. However, with Evelina inserting herself so prominently in the story for Liandro, she takes away Diego, too, which leaves Eleonora out in the dust, and she turns into a minor villainess in her own way. I found her annoying and whiny from time to time since Evelina made it a point to decline all of Diego's advances, but it was still satisfying to see such a major fall from grace for Eleonora. It was also nice to see a fun friendship form between Evelina and Diego. By the end, most of the romantic implications between them were gone, though Diego, of course, still yearned for her, which left behind an entertaining dynamic between them.
Overall, this is super syrupy and sweet. Liandro loves Evelina with everything he has, and they have some super adorable moments. Their children are precious, and the fact that we get a taste of their lives is such a nice treat after the long journey with Evelina and Liandro. You can't really go wrong with this one. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a wholesome, isekai-style love story alongside a coming-of-age tale.
Have you read A Tender Heart: The Story of How I Became a Duke's Maid? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!