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Book: “The Vermilion Emporium” by Jamie Pacton
Publishing Info: Peachtree Teen, November 2022
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: It was a day for finding things . . .
On the morning Twain, a lonely boy with a knack for danger, discovers a strand of starlight on the cliffs outside Severon, a mysterious curiosity shop appears in town. Meanwhile, Quinta, the ordinary daughter of an extraordinary circus performer, chases rumors of the shop, The Vermilion Emporium, desperate for a way to live up to her mother’s magical legacy.
When Quinta meets Twain outside the Emporium, two things happen: One, Quinta starts to fall for this starlight boy, who uses his charm to hide his scars. Two, they enter the store and discover a book that teaches them how to weave starlight into lace.
Soon, their lace catches the eye of the Casorina, the ruler of Severon. She commissions Quinta and Twain to make her a starlight dress and will reward them handsomely enough to make their dreams come true. However, they can’t sew a dress without more material, and the secret to starlight’s origins has been lost for centuries. As Quinta and Twain search the Emporium for answers, though, they discover the secret might not have been lost—but destroyed. And likely, for good reason.
Review: This book had early marketing that compared it to a mix of “The Radium Girls” and “Howl’s Moving Castle.” And that’s definitely one of those situations where the weirdness of that mixture just adds to the appeal. I mean, what does that even mean? But the book description itself also sounded intriguing and the cover seemed to speak to a sort of historical/fantasy hybrid of sorts. So what did it turn out to be?
Quinta and Twain each feel as if they have hit dead ends. Quinta’s mother often spoke of a future for daughter full of greatness, but looking around her now, Quinta only sees the mundane. For his part, Twain’s hopes of buying him and his brother a new life via passage on a ship out of the city died alongside his brother when he perished in a tragic accident. But when Quinta and Twain find themselves thrown together, privy to a long-lost magical substance, each sees their future opening up before them once again. However, some secrets may have been forgotten for a reason, and Quinta and Twain may be in over their heads.
This was another frustrating read for me, largely because after the first few chapters I was feeling pretty good about the book as a whole. First off, and for me most importantly, the writing seemed solid and engaging, painting a vivid new world full of interesting new magic and sympathetic characters. Twain, especially, with this tragic story of the loss of his brother was a particularly interesting narrator. His story also starts off quickly, jumping the reader right into the action and setting out a path for him to follow early on.
Things began to go down hill when I met the female main character. Quinta seemed interesting enough at first, but quite quickly it began to feel like her entire motivation and drive centered around the prediction her mother made that she would be great. She also seemed overly fixated on the fact that she only let people down and that she was a “one night girl.” Seriously, that last phrase was repeated so many times that I almost got out a note pad and started counting. I get the general type of character that these two things are supposed to be painting, but the repetitive way that Quinta talked about and described herself quickly began to feel unnatural.
And then, the romance. Oh, the romance. Why, instalove, why?? Again, the first few pages of Quinta and Twain’s interactions had me interested. There was some good banter and chemistry, and I was hopeful that that would turn into a solid foundation for an eventual relationship. NOPE! For such a “one night kind of girl” Quinta sure did jump in quickly! Seriously, they were holding hands within pages of meeting, and Quinta was immediately discussing how she didn’t buy into “love at first sight” but man, she was starting to have questions now. It was so rushed and uncomfortable.
After that, I really struggled to connect with anything else in this story. There were never any major conflicts the two characters had to face and very little character growth of any kind was involved. And if I had to hear the phrases “one night girl” or “meant for great things” a single more time…Alas, it was not for me. Perhaps fantasy readers who are not as put off by instalove and looking for lighter fare may enjoy this, but ultimately it felt like a wasted opportunity for a good story.
Rating 6: A promising start broke down fairly quickly and left me struggling to get through this one.
“The Vermilion Emporium” can be found on this Goodreads list: YA Novels of 2022