When I received the review request from the publisher for By A Charm and a Curse by Jaime Questell, the request emphasized how much I had loved Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond which I reviewed here. I considered the Gwenda Bond novel one of the best books I read in 2014. It's also among my favorite circus novels of all time.
It's definitely true that I love books about circuses and carnivals, but I'm also very picky about them. I called the bestselling Erin Morgenstern novel The Night Circus inauthentic and superficial in my review of Girl on a Wire. So let this be a warning to those who want me to review their circus or carnival novels. I did obtain an ARC of By A Charm and a Curse via Net Galley in return for this honest review.
So let's start with what worked. The romantic heroine and hero were very sympathetic. Their relationship was intense and moving. Jaime Questell should definitely continue writing romance. She understands how to engage the reader's emotions.
I thought that the fantasy aspect of the charm and the curse could have applied to any high risk occupation. They could have been a unit of mercenaries, for example. There is nothing that makes this inherently a story about carnival performers.
There also weren't any performers with high risk acts who were central to the novel. So we don't really get very much of their perspective. There was relatively little space devoted to performances or training. For me, a tumbler or aerialist's breathtaking act is what makes carnivals and circuses magical. So there wasn't enough of the content that draws me to novels of this type.
Girl On A Wire was about an especially daring aerialist who filled me with awe. The novel was about the risks she took and her motivations for taking them as much as it was about a Romeo and Juliet romance. By A Charm and a Curse was primarily about characters who didn't belong in a carnival and didn't want to be there. I felt that as a fan of carnivals, I was not part of the intended audience for this book.
For me, the romance aspect was the most appealing part of By A Charm and a Curse. Romance fans should be satisfied by it.