By A Charm & A Curse by Jaime Questell is a really fun story set at a carnival and at first sight seems similar to The Night Circus, but is actually very different.
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.
The story is set at a magical carnival, has romance and curses and overall seems not very original from The Night Circus, but from the first page on, I knew it would be completely different (and not in a bad way). It’s about two characters, one resident of the carnival and then there’s Emma, who comes to visit the carnival with her friend. Emma becomes the victim of a curse and has to be “the Girl in the Box” and therefore has to leave her home, family, and friends behind.
“Fur is a terrible, red-winged thing in the shape of my mother.”
Emma is such a great character. I loved how she was both flawed and wanted to do right by everyone. She just felt very realistic. She has conflicted thoughts about what she has to do to get rid of the curse but also about how she got it and I loved seeing that conflict play out. She’s definitely not a 100% good person, but she’s a good person nonetheless.
“You won’t age, but you won’t live, either. Every day you’ll need to be in that booth, waiting to trap the next sucker. And the longer it takes for you to charm some boy or girl into taking your place, the more stunted and dark your heart becomes.”
I’m not a huge fan of romance stories (as you might have noticed) but this one was so cute! It was very innocent and adorable and I loved the chemistry the two characters had. Also just as characters, the two were so much fun to follow. You read the story from both their perspectives and I really liked that!
Overall it is just a very cute story, but also has some darker parts. It has the fun, vibrant setting of a carnival, but also tackles more complicated subjects such as bullying, lost love, morality.
“And I think I’m so desperate to leave the carnival so I can find a place to make my own, to make a home that feels like our little house did when my dad was there. But in the meantime, I have this. I have sugar-scented air and wide-open skies. I have noises that blend together with the chatter of hundreds of people making a song like no other. I have the hand of a girl who fascinates me securely in my own. With Emma by my side, I can actually see the carnival for the thing of wonder that it is… And it’s beautiful.”
I’m giving this book 4 stars because though it was very fun to read, it also was a little forgettable. It’s only weeks after finishing reading, and I already had a difficult time remembering what happened in the story (though that might also be due to my current stress level). It was a lot of fun to read and I think you will love it if you love the whimsey of carnivals, with a bit of cute romance mixed in.