Entangled: Teen gave me an ARC copy of A Charm and Curse through NetGalley. This review is honest and reflects my true feelings about the book.
Anyhow... I wasn't expecting that. Probably because I read "carnival" and say the cover and that was all that it took to convince me to read it. Sometimes I am that easy. By a Charm and Curse is the story of Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic, a boy who works it and a girl who is pulled into it told in alternating first-person chapters. The blurb gives more away, but I am not going to say more because I would like this to remain as spoiler free as possible.
Emmaline spends the first third of the book in shock so it took me awhile to warm up to her. She has a fairly difficult moral dilemma. Either she is stuck with the curse forever or she has to pass it along to some unsuspecting undeserving soul. It takes her awhile to overcome her natural passivity to search for a solution.
Benjamin works at Carnival Fantastic but has a long-term plan to leave it for "the real world". He is adorable and sweet and I am so glad that he didn't have to be the dark and broody misunderstood bad boy to be the hero.
Have I ever actually been to a carnival? Reading this book, I have been thinking about it, and aside from a visit to the County Fair in high school and the Christmas Markets in Germany, I am pretty sure that my life has been carnival free. Is it different than a circus? Is the carnival just the traveling rides and rigged games? Or am I thinking about sideshows? An even better question: Is there a portrayal of a carnival in books or cinema in which the carnival isn't supernaturally creepy?
As a "Circus Book" By a Charm and a Curse almost inevitably going to be compared to other YA books on similar themes. This book is not as immediate or modern feeling as That Time I Joined the Circus. The carnival in this book feels as if it exists in this weird timeless limbo where it is eternally 1919. The writing isn't as lush and visual as The Night Circus. While I love The Night Circus, I found that the more straightforward and less lyrical writing is appropriate to this story. The plot and characterization are far stronger that Caraval but the writing is less visual.
The carnival is the perfect metaphor for one's attempt to escape a problem rather than staying and trying to work it out. Both Benjamin and Emmaline start the book intending to escape their current lives. Emma is contemplating leaving her small town existence them minute she graduates and Ben has been tinkering with a broken down car for months with his best friend in order to leave Carnival Fantastic for "the real world." The carnival is their desire to escape made physical and figuring out how to escape it means figuring out how to face problems rather than run from them.
It is written in third person present tense. This makes the action of the story both more intimate and the books outcome more uncertain. When a book is written in past tense there is always the comfort that if the main character doesn't survive of course there wouldn't be a book (we have all been burned by this assumption at one time or another). With the present tense, you don't have this subconscious assurance which heightens the reading tension.
The carnival setting might feel timeless, but the cast of characters in the book was fresh and diverse. The main characters were white (pretty sure) and straight, but there is no set default for the people around them.
While the writing itself wasn't standout for me one of the best parts of this book was how uncertain I was about what was going to happen in the story. More than once I was genuinely surprised. Since I read a lot (a whole lot) I have internalized enough tropes so this doesn't happen often. Particularly with YA genre. Well done, Jaime Questell!
I would recommend this book to anyone who is attracted to books set in a circus/carnival. Those who like a bit of fantasy and something of a fairytale atmosphere will also enjoy it.
blurbLe 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.