Monday, March 28, 2016

Curio by Evangeline Denmark, 2016

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Grey Haward has always detested the Chemists, the magicians-come-scientists who rule her small western town. But she has always followed the rules, taking the potion the Chemists ration out that helps the town’s people survive. A potion that Grey suspects she—like her grandfather and father—may not actually need.
By working at her grandfather’s repair shop, sorting the small gears and dusting the curio cabinet inside, Grey has tried to stay unnoticed—or as unnoticed as a tall, strong girl can in a town of diminutive, underdeveloped citizens. Then her best friend, Whit, is caught by the Chemists’ enforcers after trying to protect Grey one night, and after seeing the extent of his punishment, suddenly taking risks seems the only decision she can make.
But with the risk comes the reality that the Chemists know her family’s secret, and the Chemists soon decide to use her for their own purposes. Panicked, Grey retreats to the only safe place she knows—her grandfather’s shop. There, however, a larger secret confronts her when her touch unlocks the old curio cabinet in the corner and reveals a world where porcelain and clockwork people are real. There, she could find the key that may save Whit’s life and also end the Chemists’ dark rule forever.

(432 pages)

I'm a long-time fan of the author Donita K. Paul. Her DragonKeeper Chronicles are amazing - literally the best Christian fantasy I have ever read - and I've gobbled up tons of her books over the years. When I got a newsletter telling me that her daughter Evangeline had a book coming out, and that it was steampunk dystopian, I was excited. Then I saw the gorgeous cover and I was completely hooked.

It was available on BookLook Bloggers, a review program I'm a part of, but the copies were snapped up so fast that when I went to request it the day it became available, they were already out of hard copies. I hate reading ebooks unless I absolutely have to, so I sent a semi-begging email to Blink. I got a lovely email back letting me know that I would be getting a copy in the mail, asking whether I would like to interview the author, and just all-around being so nice and welcoming to me that it made me feel even more warm and fuzzy about the book than I already did. That was literally the most pleasant interaction I've ever had with a publishing company! Plus, they sent me a gorgeous hard-back copy instead of an ARC or even just a regular paperback. When I pulled that beauty out of the package my heart just about stopped.

The trouble started once I actually cracked open the cover. And I'm absolutely heartbroken to say it, but . . . Curio was really bad. And the terrible thing is that I actually really love the premise - even now, having read the book and kind of hated it, I'm still excited about the premise because I feel like Denmark really had some really awesome material to go on. She came up with a fascinating scenario, with the tocks and the porcies and the entire world full of fully-animated, living dolls. The entire dystopian backstory to everything sounded really cool too, and the writing was quite good - though I kind of lost track of all the myriad side-characters running around - and, with a few rounds of judicious edits, the book could have come out really well.

I'm not talking about editing for grammar or anything like that - Denmark is a competent writer, there's really nothing lacking there, though I wouldn't have minded a few more paragraphs explaining the dystopian setting before diving into the story. But no, what I would really focus on removing are all the lust scenes. Like, seriously. In Grey's community there's some rule (that really doesn't make any sense, to be perfectly honest) that forbids males and females from standing within a few feet of each other. Literally from the first chapter - when a childhood friend picks her up to protect her from a pack of wolves - every single time she touches a man Grey starts obsessing about it. Every. Single. Time. Her heart starts racing, she starts focusing on the touch of his skin, she forgets whatever super-important thing she's in the middle of and just starts thinking about that person's eyes. And I'll be straight with you: it's not just Grey who gets carried away with her lustful instincts. Whit does too, and so does a character who comes into the story later (whom I don't want to name for fear of spoilers). People who barely know each other randomly start passionately kissing, but it's supposed to be okay because we know that the kissing obviously means that they are meant to be a good match for each other - they're soul mates or something, never mind the fact that they have no idea whether they even have anything in common other than some hormonal urges.

But honestly. I don't really like reading a book where I get the feeling that if you left the two main characters alone together in a room for more than ten minutes you'd come back to find them, ahem, getting it on. I legitimately think that the self-control in all of these characters is so low that they could not deny the urge to take it all the way and sleep together if other pressing matters didn't keep them preoccupied most of the time. And that is really not a pleasant impression to have of the protagonists of a story.

Plus, I'll just add, there's some really creepy goings-on amongst the porcies, including a lord who we're told cycles through mistresses and who actually tries to rape Grey at one point. I wasn't such a huge fan of that, either, for obvious reasons.

Basically, if all those pages of racing heartbeats and trembling kisses and creepy hands-on-skirts had been deleted from the book, it would have been a very entertaining read; as it is, though, I struggled to get past all of the troubling parts and through to the meat of the story. I almost DNF'd about halfway through, actually, but I decided I was still interested enough in the core story to see it through to the end. I can't say I'd highly recommend this book to anyone, but I am interested to see what Denmark comes out with in the future; she's definitely inherited that knack for creating fascinating worlds from her mother, and if she would just stop giving her characters so many hormones she could easily write some quality fiction.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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