Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Curio- Evangeline Denmark
Description: 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.
My Thoughts: This review saddens me to write because I thought I would love this book. The author's mother (Donita K. Paul) was one of my favorites and I had expected to enjoy this just as much. Unfortunately, Denmark's story was nothing like I expected, even knowing (and liking) that it was steampunk.
The issues for me began when the conflict between the Chemists and Grey's home town were thrust to the background in favor of the conflict brewing inside the curio cabinet. Denmark had set up a huge conflict which from then on played almost no part in the rest of the story other than to give Grey a reason to want to get back home. I might have been able to overlook this if not for the fact that I could not get myself to care about the conflict inside the curio.
Curio city is full of porcies and tocks, or animated porcelain figurines and windup toys. They are supposed to be just as real and alive as any human, yet they never age or have children and they can't die, only deanimate. Throughout the story, they are presented as beings who the reader is supposed to sympathize with, yet I could not get over that even when deanimated they can always be reanimated or else rebuilt. Up until the very end, I found the porcies and tocks to be selfish and mostly uncaring people who used each other to further their own goals. Even then, the only one I ever had any sympathy for was Lord Weatherton, who only took part in a handful of chapters.
I might have liked the story better if not for the scenes from Wit's perspective back in the real world. The conflicts in these scenes mattered to me, with characters who sacrificed for others and lived in the fear of actual death. These scenes served to remind me that I would have much preferred reading that story instead of the one taking place inside the curio.
Potential readers of this book should also be aware that there is a strong presence of sexual conflict, which I personally found so strong as to be ridiculous, particularly for a YA novel. This included a city where physical contact between the sexes (even when in order to save a life) is punishable by "striping", to another city where one of the highest honors is to be taken as Lord Blueboy's mistress and named "Beauty's Best". There are two instances of insta-love, a vividly described almost rape which is drawn out over an entire chapter, and an attraction between two characters that is felt as a burning in a mark that circles their bellybutton. And this is only some of the more memorable examples.
I really wish that I could have liked this book. A steampunk written just as well as Donita K. Paul's books would have been fantastic. Unfortunately, this fell far short of the mark for me.
I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.