Book Review: By a Charm and a Curse by Jaime Questell

Rating: 5 Stars

Expected publication: February 6th 2018 by Entangled: Teen
Summary: 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.
(from Goodreads)

Review: I just watched The Greatest Showman in theatres and was so amazed that I was desperate for more circus/carnival action. By A Charm and a Curse is everything I was hoping Caraval would be and was disappointed in (sorry, Stephanie Garber!!)

The world building is great. I love the way the charm and the curse are intertwined, and there’s just enough magic present in the form of Emma’s transformations because of the curse to make things extra filled with oohs and aahs – just like the real circus!! Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic is this circus/carnival hybrid, with carnival rides and games, deep fried candy bars and cotton candy, and then tents with shows of acrobats and girls in sequined costumes doing tricks on the back of running horses that run periodically. It’s like no circus I’ve ever been to, but reminds me a lot of the MN Renaissance Festival, especially with the concept of paying admission to get in, and then going to shows that start every hour or two on the hour and tipping, as well as buying food or paying to play games. I love me a good circus (especially the aerialists, they’re my favorite part!) so I was excited to read this book (though a little gun shy after the very not-carnivalness that was Caraval).

By A Charm and a Curse is told in the first person present tense, with chapters switching off between Emma (a townie attending the carnival who was tricked into taking on the curse that keeps the carnival going and now is stuck with it) and Benjamin (a carpenter at the carnival who works behind the scenes with his mom, who is the master carpenter). I really liked that you get to see inside the heads of both of the leads, rather than just getting the entire story from a single point of view, as is usually the case in first person present tense novels. It’s also nice to read a YA novel that’s NOT the first in a trilogy or series, so I’m not asked to commit myself to more than just this book, at this time. Emma and Benjamin are both interesting characters, and there are a lot of interesting supporting characters as well. Usually when I finish a book I’ve got no idea what the names of the other characters were, but I could even describe what they look like, what their personalities are like, and what they do with the circus for Duncan and Pia, Gin and Whiskey, Marcel, Sidney, Lars… I loved all of these characters, and they (and this book!) made me want to run away and join the circus.

*I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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