Serena’s Review: “Curses”

Book: “Curses” by Lish McBride

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, July 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Merit Cravan refused to fulfill her obligation to marry a prince, leading to a fairy godling’s curse. She will be forced to live as a beast forever, unless she agrees to marry a man of her mother’s choosing before her eighteenth birthday.

Tevin Dumont has always been a pawn in his family’s cons. The prettiest boy in a big family, his job is to tempt naïve rich girls to abandon their engagements, unless their parents agree to pay him off. But after his mother runs afoul of the beast, she decides to trade Tevin for her own freedom.

Now, Tevin and Merit have agreed that he can pay off his mother’s debt by using his con-artist skills to help Merit find the best match . . . but what if the best match is Tevin himself?

Review: A cover can go a long way. More often than not, I get sucked into reading books that have summaries that don’t really speak to me but have covers that I can’t resist. But sometimes it cuts the other way. This isn’t an awful cover, but it also looks a bit cheap and like something that was quickly drawn up on Photoshop without much great thought. I almost passed the book up based purely on this, judging the entire book to be of a similar lack-luster quality. Luckily, my obsession with “Beauty and the Beast” forced my hand, because the cover in no way represents the absolute blast of a time I had reading this story!

Fairy gifts and curses can look much alike, often to the detriment of the poor human on whom its cast. But Merit’s experience is very much that of a curse, stuck in the form of a beast except for the few hours that a rare medicine can grant her. And, unless she marries for love or marries a strategic gentleman selected by her mother, this form will become a permanent state. Luckily, Tevin, a con man with his own agenda, is on the case. Together, they hope to break Merit’s curse by finding her a truly perfect match. Soon enough, however, each begins to find their own feelings getting in the way of this task. Will it be enough to break the curse in time?

This was such a fun and funny story. It’s definitely a light-hearted fairytale retelling, but it’s not shallow, like so many stories tend to be when they go for a lighter tone. There were several moments that had me laughing out loud, with witty dialogue and clever, insightful takes sprinkled within the text. On the more serious side, there are a bunch of mothers in this book whose failures as a parent range from general obtuseness to outright neglect and maliciousness. Most of it is still played for comedic affect, but there are some interesting nuggets buried in there regarding the complicated nature of parent/child relationships. How, even if a parent is abusive, there can be a desire to please and impress them on the child’s part, even a grown child.

I really enjoyed both Merit and Tavin as characters. Tavin, perhaps, in particular, was an interesting take on a gender-swapped “Beauty.” His looks are an established part of his way of operating in the world, for better and worse. There’s also a mixture of magic, with his ability to charm those around him. I like that the author didn’t simply say “oh, he’s handsome” and leave it at that as far as the Beauty adaptation worked.

Merit’s beastly nature is also interesting. Unlike many other versions of the story, she’s not left brooding in some dark castle. Instead, while she may prefer to linger in the countryside, her mother likes to keep her in town and participating in society. Merit can go in her human form at times, but also goes out and about in public in her beastly form as well. In a land that is blessed/stricken with people affected by fairy magic, while Merit’s form is unique, she’s not the only person with such an affliction. There were a couple of other characters with interesting curses/blessing, especially the nods at other fairytale characters, a few of whom are on the lesser known side of things.

There’s was also an interesting commentary on the freedom that Merit finds in her beastly form. Not only is she physically more capable, but at times she is seen to appreciate some of the other animalistic characteristics of that form, such as having her emotions closer to the surface and the freedom to express them as such. It was also refreshing to have all of the horror/fear of the beast essentially not even play a part in the story. By not having this aspect, it allowed for the story to develop the romance in a different way and for the story to explore different challenges and aspects of the curse itself.

The world-building and magic all fell heavily in the “light and fluffy” category. There wasn’t tons of detail given into how any of it works or any nuanced history of the world. Instead, readers are left to simply enjoy the ride, with discussions about flying badgers and pompous boys being casually turned into ostriches. The side characters were also all fantastic and added a lot of flair and amusement to the story.

I definitely recommend this one to fans of fairytale re-tellings. Had we not already done our “Beach Reads” lists for the summer, this is exactly the sort of book I’d throw up in my fantasy category. Who knows? Perhaps next summer it will make an appearance!

Rating 8: Perfectly fun in every way, with a well-balanced mixture of romance and humor sure to appeal to any romantic comedy fan.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Curses” is on these Goodreads list: Fairy tales & Retellings.

Find “Curses” at your library using WorldCat!m

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