Title: By a Charm and a Curse
Author: Jaime Questell
Publisher: Entangled: Teen
Release Date: February 1st 2018
*I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review*
One of the most appealing aspects of Jaime Questell’s By a Charm and a Curse is its carnival setting, but I could not help but want more from this backdrop. Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic is supposed to be a place where Emma gets a chance to forget all her problems for one night. No thinking about her mother, who is a world a way on a research project, or the fact that since she moved back with her dad, the easy friendship she had with her childhood best friend Juliet, can sometimes feel forced. When Emma is tricked and forced to bear a curse that links her to the carnival and its troupe, her problems go from bad to worse. The curse alters her entirely. An unshakable coldness settles into her bones, making all previous human sensations a distance memory. In exchange for Emma’s involuntary sacrifice, those who work for the carnival are protected with a charm that prevents injury or illness. But Emma is desperate to reclaim her freedom, but in so doing, she may have to ensnare someone else.
The curse and charm aspect of the novel created an interesting predicament for the protagonist. Not being able to leave the carnival and unable to feel like she can function normally, Emma is trapped in a strange place with no one to turn to. Her only out is to find someone else to take on the curse, but that would require her to condemn an innocent person. This novel had the potential to be darker than it was and it is the possibility of a darker character arc for the protagonist that had me wanting more. Emma is a really naive character in the beginning of the novel and accepts her role as the “Girl in the Box” a little too quickly. I really wanted to explore how this loss of agency over her own life alters her as a person, but the author never delves this deep.
The novel features a dual perspective; the second of which belongs to Benjamin. As a roustabout, Benjamin is not a performer himself, but someone who works behind the scenes. He often feels like an outsider himself. His mother is a really strong influence in his life, though not always in a good way. She’s determined to protect him, but her need to shield him from life’s woes is stifling. Ben longs to leave the carnival, to stay in one place for once and make himself a home. As a character, Ben felt more developed than Emma and a lot of this had to do with his relationship to the carnival folk. We never get to see Emma with her family and only briefly see her interacting with her best friend. With Ben, we get to know him through his interactions with his mother especially. There’s a power struggle between the two that ends up revealing a really interesting backstory for his mother. As much as Ben feels like the carnival isn’t his home, there are many members of the troupe that he has a close relationship with. I enjoyed a lot of scenes with sisters Whiskey and Gin especially.
By a Charm and a Curse lacks the kind of magic I was hoping for in a carnival setting, left something to be desired when it came to darker elements, but showed promise when it came to its characters.