By a Charm and a Curse, by Jaime Questell
Publish Date: February 6, 2018
Published by: Entangled Teen
Genre: YA Fantasy/Romance
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)
**I received this as an egalley from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.**
This review is part of a blog tour. Make sure to check out the other stops in it, and the giveaway that can be found at the bottom of this page!
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.
About the Author:
JAIME QUESTELL grew up in Houston, Texas, where she escaped the heat and humidity by diving into stacks of Baby Sitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High books. She has been a book seller (fair warning: book lovers who become book sellers will give half their paychecks right back to their employers), a professional knitter, a semi-professional baker, and now works as a graphic designer in addition to writing.
Author Website: jaimequestell.com
Author Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jaimequestell/
Author Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jaimequestell
Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15396319.Jaime_Questell
I was a little hesitant to read this book at first, because I haven’t had a lot of luck enjoying books that are themed around carnivals and such, but the premise of it sounded too interesting to pass up and I am so glad I ended up reading it! This book was cute and enjoyable, with a wonderfully magical plot, and a romance that put a giddy smile on my face.
The story drew me in instantly with its easy writing and great narration. The chapters switch off between the perspectives of Emma and Benjamin, but it was easy to get a feel for their different voices and to flow with the changes in point-of-view. Some of the lines in the first few chapters had me cringing a bit, unfortunately, particularly concerning the portrayal of certain side characters and their personalilties/identities, but as the story progressed it became more natural and easier to chew, so to speak. Part of this, I felt, was the lack of presence of the side characters altogether, but I will get to that later. There were also some scenes that I felt should have happened but didn’t – things that were mentioned briefly having already occurred – when I thought that they were more important and needed an actual written scene.
The romance of the plot had me a little worried, at first, because the attraction between Emma and Benjamin was almost instant and I do not enjoy insta-love stories at all. So of course I was eye-rolling at some of the cheesiness in the beginning, and praying I wasn’t going to have to DNF this because I was still interested in the curse and the charm part of the plot, but luckily that was not the case. The romance turned out to grow beautifully between the two protagonists, taking its time and moving at a steady and calm pace that matched their personalities perfectly. I absolutely loved that they kept it real, with Emma even worrying about the depth of their love for one another because despite how much she felt for Benjamin, she knew that they had still only known each other for a relatively short time and that to me spoke levels about understanding relationships, especially as teenagers.
The magic part of the plot was beautifully built into the world and easy to follow, although I felt the mechanics of how the curse was passed one were a little strange and weirdly specific at first. It seemed to me that there needed to be an explanation of why all these specific actions were needed for the transfer, and yet Emma never asked them. The answers luckily came later as the mystery behind the curse was slowly explained, but I still felt there should have been some more wonder about the strange mechanics of it from the start. I was also highly annoyed at the carnival workers and performers, because as far as I could tell while they completely benefited from the charm, the bearer of the curse completely suffered, and none of them seemed to care about the fact that they were basically exploiting innocent people who never asked for the curse in the first place. I therefore never felt any sympathy for them, and if I had been able to, I feel like the conflict about ending the curse might have made things a little more interesting. Eventually, though, I was able to overcome this and just enjoy the book, but I still wish there had been a little more to it.
Like I said earlier, I think my biggest disappointment was in the side characters. When they were all first individually introduced, I thought that they were all going to have bigger roles to play, that we would get to know them better as the story progressed, but after those initial introductions they became just sort of part of the background. Any of their interactions or presence on the page thereafter existed only around Ben and Emma’s plots, and I just felt like I was missing something. I wanted to know what their individual goals and desires were, what issues they might be dealing with throughout the course of the novel, how the charm affected them and what they truly thought about it. I think Marcel might have been the only one who had a slight semblance of his own character arc with his romance with Gin and his conflicting feelings about leaving her to escape with Ben. But that was so far in the background that it really didn’t make much of an impact on the overall plot, unfortunately.
Another issue I had was with Audrey and Sidney’s plot. It just felt kind of so one-dimensional. Audrey especially annoyed me with her stubbornness and attitude towards the curse and Emma, and while her reasoning behind her worry for Ben was understandable, I still felt there needed to be a little more said or done in that plot. Audrey never seemed to grow as a character and overcome her own hubris in any way, and so I was left feeling like there was this big issue that never got solved or even had the hopes of becoming solved by the end of the novel. Considering that her relationship with Ben was so important in the book, I felt that more could have been done in that aspect.
Still, the storyline was highly enjoyable, the romance was well written and was very heartwarming, and I thoroughly enjoyed the magic of the plot. This book has some flaws, mainly in the characterization of the supporting cast, but overall it was a fun read that had me smiling at the end. It had feelings reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast and Something Wicked This Way Comes but was most definitely a unique story all on its own.