Can I be completely honest for just a minute? I was recently perusing a local book store when I came across a clearance section. A clearance section that contained several interesting titles that I had to pick between. Finally, after a lot of guessing and a little money, I walked out of the store without breaking the bank. And, taking a leap of faith, I walked out with Curio. I didn’t recognize the author and I was unfamiliar with the title. But purchasing Curio was not a mistake. Here’s why.
Grey has lived her entire life in Mercury City. A city controlled by the Chemists, a powerful group governing over the citizens. But when her best friend is punished and her father is arrested, Grey’s life is about to change forever. Because her grandfather knows the secret to unlocking an enchanted world: Curio City. When Grey finds herself trapped in the beautiful yet deadly world, she must find the one person who holds the key to her escape and the key to saving her family.
I think the best way to describe the plot is that it feels like one giant crescendo. But let me break it down.
There is a lot of action in this title. From the first chapter to the last, Evangeline Denmark leaves little room to breathe. And this made me a very happy reader. To read a book that wastes hundreds of pages on prolonged descriptions and advanced grammar is tedious at times, especially if the general plot doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. The opening scene introduces the readers to Grey Haward, the protagonist, and her hometown Mercury City. Mercury City is a bleak city under the oppressive rule of the Chemists. The Chemist regime oversees the distribution of the potion that keeps people alive. Without this potion, the citizens of the city would die of a strange disease.
I will let you know that the setting for Denmark’s book is a mixture of steampunk and fantasy, an enchanting blend of mysticism and machinery. As the story unfolds, it doesn’t take long for the setting to shift to another realm. One locked inside a magical curio cabinet.
Grey, the protagonist, finds herself transported to the mysterious world of Curio City, a place inhabited by porcelain and mechanical citizens, also known as porcies and tocks respectively. But what at first glance appears to be a beautiful world soon reveals itself to be much more sinister. Rumors of a Mad Tock have spread through the city. But who is this mysterious mad man and what does he want with Grey?
Shivers wracked her body, and she scrubbed at the wetness on her cheeks. Where was that surge of strength now? She covered the spot on her stomach where the mark bloomed. Cold permeated her skin, wrapping icy fingers around her heart. She grabbed a pillow and hugged it to her. Breathe. Just breathe.
(Curio, p. 187)
However, on the flip side of my previous point, the pacing of the story felt a little odd at times. Although I enjoyed the constant action, there wasn’t a clearly defined point of finale for Grey and her companions. The standard pacing for a novel is rather predictable, and typically once you reach a certain point in the book you see the climax barreling towards you. With Curio, on the other hand, there were a few scenes in the book that made me wonder: Is this the climax? Instead there was more content followed by yet another climatic scene. And the ending did feel a little abrupt, leaving far too many holes.
I will say that I liked this. Either it means there will be a sequel (yay!) or Denmark left her readers hanging (also yay!). There is something beautiful about leaving your readers the pieces and allowing them to put them together. So maybe I did think the pacing felt off at times, but I still really enjoyed the book.
One of my favorite aspects of Curio was simply the story. It has been several books since I last read something that I truly felt was enjoyable to read. Too often books become almost distracted by love triangles, flowery descriptions, and a gritty story. However, Curio disregarded many of these pitfalls. Denmark chose to rather focus on the story itself, and she made a beautiful one because of it. Her attention to detail and storytelling was masterful and I walked away from Curio just a little disappointed that I had reached the final page.
Grey: Where to start with Grey? Yes, she was a strong female protagonist. But of course, that was one of her main qualities due to her Defender inheritence–a trait that has been passed through her bloodlines giving her inhuman strength. Yet, as a novice, this skill held little assistance for her. As a result, Grey was not able to fall back on what should have been a strength. Rather she had to rely on her own inner strength as well as help from others. This humanness gave her a relatable quality. Her weaknesses in turn strengthened her as a protagonist. Reading her story, seeing how she learned to overcome the struggles that arose in her situation, was inspiring. Because she wasn’t completely helpless. Using her brain rather that pure brawn, she was able to defend herself. This showed true strength.
He darted down the alley, but Grey hovered between a squat and a spring, her muscles tight. If Whit was caught out after curfew, they’d stripe him for sure. She had to give him a head start. She imagined him already safe in his home, watching from the window as she dashed to her front door, coywolves and deputies on her heels.
(Curio, p. 15)
Whit: What can I say? Whit was my least favorite major character. No matter how hard I tried, I never quite got into his story or his plight. After Grey’s disappearance and her father’s imprisonment, Whit determines that he needs to join the fight against the Chemist regime. Joining a group of rebels, he begins working alongside Marina and Maverick. Much of Whit’s story is revolving around these incidents, and while it was never boring, I simply didn’t find myself getting behind Whit’s fight.
Blaise: Blaise made for an interesting character. When Grey meets him in Curio City, she knows nothing about him or how he came to be the only human in the mechanical city. And for the majority of the book, you as the reader know very little about him either. It was intriguing to learn who he is and what purpose he serves to the plot. While he was not exactly a dynamic character, the unknown information held my attention and kept me interested in Blaise’s story. The romance between him and Grey was subtle and never felt overbearing. Romance–especially triangles–have become overused and horribly aggrandized. When an author chooses to avoid these paths for their characters, or at the very least minimize their importance to a story, the quality of the plot and its characters seems to shine a little brighter.
Blaise dashed onto the veranda, bounded to the railing, and jumped. The moment of falling sent thrills chasing through his body. Or maybe the buzz in his veins had more to do with the girl he’d just left.
(Curio, p. 108)
So that’s my review of Curio. Have you read it yet? If not, I would highly recommend picking this one up. It’s definitely worth the read.
Until next time, happy reading!