I’m fairly certain I’ve mentioned this before, but I am not the world’s biggest steampunk fan, I haven’t had the best interactions with the genre. But Curio, by Evangeline Denmark, is definitely a game changer. Curio follows Grey Haward, a girl from Mercury City – a sort of other-world Chicago. To survive in Mercury City you must take your daily dose of potion, potion which is concocted by the Chemists. The Chemists are, for lack of a better way to explain, the elite authority. Unlike the suffering citizens of Mercury City, the Chemists have magic and their potion, which keeps them in power. Grey is a bit different than the average Mercurian, she’s unusually tall and strong in a city of underfed and underdeveloped citizens. Despite her and her family’s efforts, she catches the eye of the Chemists and after a tragic turn of events ends up uncovering secrets that will change her and possibly Mercury City forever.
One of the biggest issues I’ve had with steampunk is finding a human connection in stories often filled with overwhelming descriptions. Curio strikes that balance of giving me, the reader, that perfect balance between world building, character building, and story building. I was enthralled with the fantasy surrounding Curio, which also contrasted so beautifully with the dank, dangerous, and well, frankly depressing landscape of Mercury City.
Grey Haward has always detested the Chemists, the magicians-come-scientists who rule her small western town. But she has always followed the rules, taking the potion the Chemists ration out that helps the town’s people survive. A potion that Grey suspects she—like her grandfather and father—may not actually need.
By working at her grandfather’s repair shop, sorting the small gears and dusting the curio cabinet inside, Grey has tried to stay unnoticed—or as unnoticed as a tall, strong girl can in a town of diminutive, underdeveloped citizens. Then her best friend, Whit, is caught by the Chemists’ enforcers after trying to protect Grey one night, and after seeing the extent of his punishment, suddenly taking risks seems the only decision she can make.
But with the risk comes the reality that the Chemists know her family’s secret, and the Chemists soon decide to use her for their own purposes. Panicked, Grey retreats to the only safe place she knows—her grandfather’s shop. There, however, a larger secret confronts her when her touch unlocks the old curio cabinet in the corner and reveals a world where porcelain and clockwork people are real. There, she could find the key that may save Whit’s life and also end the Chemists’ dark rule forever.
As far as characters go, Grey is young, curious, and in a manner of speaking very innocent – but not stupidly so. Her reactions are believable, and I love that she is really intuitive – she knows when she is in a sticky situation and makes moves to better herself. She absolutely engages in zero self-pity, and despite being dropped (quite literally) into a new situation she really hits the ground running which moves the story along well. Also, kudos to Evangeline Denmark for including a scene that dealt with actual basic issues that would arise – like using the bathroom. My sister and I always joke about how our heroines never seem to have to use the bathroom, or brush their teeth and tend to other hygiene needs!
Her character is one that I could not read enough of, in fact I would even go so far as to say that I wish that Curio would have been even longer so I could spend more time with Grey and Blaise, and her father. Which brings me to another key character, Whit. Whit started out as such a star for me, sure he was stubborn but he really seemed noble and honorable. Then I completely lost interest in him. I mean completely. His narrative was a real drag for me, and that is the single criticism I have of this book. I wish there was less Whit, and significantly more Grey and Blaise. Their relationship could have benefited with more development, while Whit & co. could have been relegated to a much smaller portion of the book (or even the sequel or a novella) and I would have been 1001% fine with it. I get that his story, especially considering the ending, will probably evolve in the second book (and hopefully as the series continues) but right now I’m very “eh” about his part in this tale. And just to make it clear, the writing of Whit and what happens to him is really good, but for me (which probably won’t hold true for most other readers) I just didn’t fall in love with him.
There is a short prequel novella, called Mark of Blood and Alchemy. It’s not necessary to have read it before you start Curio, but I appreciate its existence. I am definitely hoping we get more of Blaise and Grey, Blaise and Grey’s dad, and even Grey’s mom in the next book, as well as delving more into the world of the Chemists. I’m trying really hard to keep this review spoiler free but, let’s just say that there is so much potential for juicy conflict within Grey’s group especially since we know that there was an existing relationship with Blaise and Grey’s father – which has yet to be thoroughly fleshed out. I still have so many questions, and honestly I’m not sure whether I want them all addressed in the next installment or whether I just want to sit down and have a Q&A sesh with Evangeline Denmark, haha!
Curio is an adventure worth delving into, whether you’re a fan of steampunk or not. Entertainment, romance, shocking revelations, and equally as riveting twists and turns make this a great read! Pick it up on amazon here!
Author: Evangeline Denmark
Genre: Teen, YA, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Steampunk
Publisher: Blink, HarperCollins
*I was sent an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review*