Book: By A Charm and A Curse
Author: Jaime Questell
Published By: Entangled Teen
Expected Publication: 6th February
Thank you to Entangled Teen and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book early, it was one of my most anticipated debuts of 2018, so I was super excited to get to read it before it released!
I was really excited for By A Charm and A Curse, because I have enjoyed circus/carnival type stories in the past, and am super obsessed with The Greatest Showman, so naturally, reading a book with a circus setting was right up my alley, plus the idea of a curse being transferred by a kiss was really cool to me. There were some things which could have been improved, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was refreshing to read a shorter, standalone fantasy story, when I usually read thick tomes that are part of series! Here is a synopsis of the book:
Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic isn’t like other traveling circuses. It’s bound by a charm, held together by a centuries-old curse, that protects its members from ever growing older or getting hurt. Emmaline King is drawn to the circus like a moth to a flame…and unwittingly recruited into its folds by a mysterious teen boy whose kiss is as cold as ice.
Forced to travel through Texas as the new Girl in the Box, Emmaline is completely trapped. Breaking the curse seems like her only chance at freedom, but with no curse, there’s no charm, either—dooming everyone who calls the Carnival Fantastic home. Including the boy she’s afraid she’s falling for.
Everything—including his life—could end with just one kiss.
First off, I loved the concept, it was definitely different to the other types of circus stories that I’ve read before, and whilst the idea of a kiss being used to break a curse is quite a common one, I quite liked that in this one it was the kiss that caused all of the problems.
The setting was also really cool, I liked that it was a modern day circus, in both Caraval and The Night Circus, the circus/carnival type setting was more ethereal, more magical, but this one was a more recognisable circus, with all the things you would usually expect, acrobats, horses, food stalls that kind of thing and I really liked that, you had this modern setting, but still with that sense of awe and wonder that you get from Caraval and The Night Circus.
I also loved the dynamics between the characters, as a group, you could definitely tell they had known each other and worked together a long time, it felt like a really authentic dynamic and it was nice to read. I would have liked to get to know the side characters a little better though, it seemed as if they were just there to prop up Emma and Benjamin rather than having any significant role in the plot. Emma and Sidney in particular had a rather interesting dynamic, as he
The curse was amazing, so creepy! Emma basically turns into a sort of living version of Pinocchio, she turns completely solid and cold and like a puppet in human form and it was awful to see her go through that but it was also such a cool idea. I liked seeing how Emma struggled and adjusted to her new life and how she became a part of the little circus family.
I would have liked Emma to be a tad more developed, it has to be said. I liked that we got to see how the curse affected her and how it ultimately made her stronger, I liked that she didn’t wallow in her new life, she worked to try and find a way to solve her problem but I felt like Ben got a lot more of a backstory than she did and I would have liked to learn just a bit more about her, as it seemed like Ben’s story was a lot more important to the plot, despite Emma being the main character. Still, I did like her and was rooting for her to break the curse.
Ben seemed nice, I mean I wouldn’t say he was my favourite main character ever, but he was sweet and caring and that was a nice change from a lot of the morally ambiguous YA love interests! I will say that sometimes I got a little confused about Emma and Benjamin’s narrations, their voices could have been more distinctive, I did occasionally get confused and think one was narrating when it was actually the other! Emma and Ben’s romance was sweet, I liked that even though yes they were instantly attracted to each other, their relationship developed in a really natural, authentic way, it wasn’t like they were telling each other they loved one another in a week or something.
I will admit, I got a little annoyed at some of the carnival members, like you see this poor person suffering, but you don’t even try to help break the curse, you just keep going because this benefits you? How selfish is that! It seemed weird to me that they hadn’t tried to break the curse before now.
The curse was a little difficult to understand at first, but as the story went on and we got more explanation, it made a lot more sense and I was amazed at how much detail Jaime put in to the passing on of the curse and the history of it and everything, it was really cool!
There were a few uncorrected proof errors, but that’s to be expected and nothing that annoyed me so much I had to stop reading.
Ben’s mother was incredibly intense and I didn’t really like her, also her subplot with Sidney was really weird and I’m not sure how much it added to the plot, aside from offering a reason as to why she wasn’t keen on Emma and Benjamin being together.
It was nice to see teens drinking in USYA, I feel like that’s not something that is shown very much? Although to be fair, I don’t know what the teen drinking culture in the US is like, so I don’t know whether it’s realistic that not many teens drink in USYA or not!
I liked that the chapters were short, it meant the book had a nice flow and a nice pace to it and I never found myself getting bored by the story which was good!
I definitely felt for the characters and the stakes they were up against because every time something happened because of the charm weakening I felt really bad for them and wanted them to fix it! I also thought it was really clever, how the explanation for the charm weakening tied into to how to break the curse.
The climax was totally thrilling, I was on the edge of my seat just reading it, and there were definitely shocks along the way! I liked the ending as well, despite some of the events of the book, it ended on a happy and positive note, closed in the sense that you know there’s not going to be a sequel, but open in the fact that it ends with lots of possibilities for the characters in the future and I think that’s a really good way to end things.
Overall, this was a fast paced, unique little carnival story, and I really enjoyed it! I would definitely read more by this author in the future.
My Rating: 4/5
Bechdel Test: Pass, Emma and Jules have a conversation at the beginning that doesn’t revolve around boys and the female cast members talk about the curse throughout.
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