Saturday, 16 January 2016

'Curio' (Curio #1) by Evangeline Denmark

*This review will contain spoilers!* 

First things first, I need to thank Blink publishing, for accepting my request to view this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide. 

Grey Haward lives in Mercury City, Colorado, where contact with the opposite sex is completely forbidden, there's an extremely strict curfew and all of the citizens are completely dependent upon a daily potion. If they don't take their potion ration, they will die very quickly. 
Grey's granddad, Olan, works in the Haward Mercantile, repairing objects for the Chemists who oversee the potion dispersal. After Grey leaves the Mercantile late one night and nearly gets attacked by a vicious coywolf, her best friend (and next door neighbour) Whit rescues her, getting himself arrested for indecent contact in the process. Grey tries to take Whit's punishment, but he gets taken away and punished with the Stripe, having many deep cuts inflicted all over his back. 
After trying to defend Whit, Grey wakes up with swirling blue marks covering the entirety of her torso. She's quite sure they're bruises, but because they don't ache she just tries to forget about them. Whit returns home in agony due to his injuries, so to help him heal Grey decides to give him her potion ration. It turns out that her grandfather and father are two of the only people left in Mercury City who aren't potion dependent, and Grey has also inherited this trait.
Ration dealing is illegal in Mercury City, so when one of the Chemists discovers that Grey gave Whit her potion, he attempts to arrest her. In the process, Olan gets turned to stone, Grey's father gets arrested, and when she arrives at the Mercantile her granddad's assistant, Haimon, shoves her in a curio cabinet.
But it's not what you're thinking: Haimon doesn't just stuff her in a tiny glass case. Using blood from Grey's hand, he unlocks a keyhole and actually transports her inside the curio, where she finds herself living amongst lifelike porcelain and clockwork people. Haimon sets her a mission: "Find him and bring him back", but Grey has no idea who she's looking for or how she's meant to escape from Curio, so she finds herself living in luxury at the mansion of the ruler of Curio, Lord Blueboy, who takes a special interest in her and her mysterious arrival... 
As you can probably tell based on that brief description, this is two stories in one. There's the story of Grey in Curio, and the story of Whit out in Mercury City. The two stories are told through three perspectives: the perspective of Blaise gets added into the novel later on (if you hadn't guessed, Blaise is the "he" that Grey gets tasked with finding). 
There's an awful lot of jumping about in this book, and because of the fact that the world was very lightly constructed (ergo, there was literally no world building and I spent half of the book with my head in my hands going "Whaaaaat?!") it was easy to get disoriented and lose track of the story. The threads of the plot were intricately woven, but with no back story at the start (the history behind Curio, the Chemists and the Defenders - the people with the blue swirly marks - is explained over halfway through the novel) it's very confusing very quickly.
It also made it extremely difficult to feel any connection with the characters. You would just settle in to a viewpoint and the next page you'd be whizzing off to a completely different character. This was definitely a problem with Whit's chapters, as they were the only ones set in Mercury City and were few and far in between - they were also consistently left on major cliffhangers, which I'd forgotten by the time his viewpoint was picked up again.
The other thing that made it hard to connect with the characters was the over-abundance of insta-love. Blaise and Grey are destined to be together, because their Defender marks pull them to each other - super cliched. Similarly, Whit has feelings for Grey, but when he meets refugee Marina he automatically wants to protect her and make out with her passionately. There is some development between the characters before anything happens, but the instant "ah, I think we're probably meant to be together!" is very eye roll-worthy. 
The concept behind the novel (well, the concept behind Curio as a world) was an extremely fascinating one. The porcies need to have water to keep them animated, while the tocks need to have their keys wound regularly to keep their clockwork going, or they will also become inanimate once more. Having intricate little trinkets such as those becoming sentient was something I'd never imagined, and it was a very unique selling point for this novel. 
As I'm sure you've guessed, 'Curio' is a steampunk novel. I read quite a few books with steampunk sensibilities last year, but none of them featured the attention to detail that Evangeline Denmark brought to the table. All of her contraptions came to life, but particularly Blaise's steam-powered wings; they were described realistically, really bringing the invention to life on the page.
A lot of this book seemed unnecessary, but the sense descriptions that were featured throughout were very evocative and brilliantly written. While a lot of the scents included were machine orientated (rust, oil, etc.) Evangeline managed to write the descriptions very differently every time, and it added something special to the world: you really felt as though you could be there.
There were large parts of this novel that felt completely unnecessary. In my opinion it was about 100 pages too long, and when you combine that with the fact that the ending was horrendously rushed... It does make me think that a lot more editing could have gone into this book before it was ready for publication. There's attention to detail and then there's unnecessary waffling, and 'Curio' included a lot of the latter. 
I definitely don't think it's necessary to have a sequel, but it seems like that's where this is going. Throughout the first chapter there are hints that Grey's brother is alive, and in the epilogue that is confirmed. However, in the epilogue we also get resolution for nearly all of the other potential plot points in a second novel (Whit's two friends both get arrested: freed in the epilogue. Grey's father, also in jail: freed in the epilogue)... I don't think there's enough story left here. There's a lot more that could be done in the world of Curio, but with the trials and tribulations that both Grey and Blaise underwent in there, I can't see them willingly returning any time soon - and also, if you've infused magic into a cabinet just to keep a hostage alive, surely you'd return the cabinet to being completely normal when the hostage escaped? Just saying... 
I do have to applaud Evangeline for her inclusion of disabled characters, and the fact that she makes them so ordinary and completely capable. Oftentimes in novels if the protagonist goes through a physical change they might struggle to adapt and start becoming a damsel in distress, but after Grey goes through a transformation she takes it in her stride and doesn't let it slow her down or hinder her - I think this is a great representation and was a great thing to feature. 
If you like slow burning reads, and enjoy steampunk novels, you'll probably like this one. Just set quite a lot of time aside for it, because it is very chunky... 
If you'd prefer to explore the world of 'Curio' before committing to buying it, you can download the prequel novella on Kindle completely free (at the moment). If I'd known this was an option before I'd started 'Curio', I likely would have read it first and known this wasn't the book for me - hopefully it'll save you from making a similar mistake. 

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