Rating: 4 stars
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When David was 8, his world came crashing down around him, isolating him from his family and all of society. David had been cursed by his 9-year-old brother in a fit of jealous anger and it stuck. Despite everyone’s efforts, including the best sorcerers of the time, no one could undo the curse, a curse that made people fear him and unable to be in his company for longer than a minute.
Now, years later, David has adjusted to his life and the curse, or as much as anyone could be. He works the night shift at his cousin’s magical practitioner shop and then goes home to his video games and lonely life. Then one day at his brother’s wedding, David is introduced to Vaughn, a magical enforcer. The firm Vaughn works for is the law enforcement agency charged with picking apart complex curses and making sure sorcerers stay within the law.
Vaughn is intrigued immediately by David. David has long been known to them as The Impossible Kid because of the cure he carries. But Vaughn also finds David handsome, shy, and kind of heartbreaking in his loneliness. Vaughn loves solving supposedly irreversible curses like David’s and can dampen the magical fields he comes in contact with, enough so that he can stand near David without screaming…for most of the time.
Vaughn vows to help cure David of his curse, but finds that the more he gets to know David, the more personal his quest becomes. David is more than a puzzle to Vaughn, he just might be the love Vaughn has always wanted. David seems to want him back. But before a relationship can happen, there is a curse to be dealt with and Vaughn is not having much luck. What will happen to them both if David’s curse is truly unbreakable?
Madeleine Ribbon is a new author for me. Blessed Curses is only the second book of hers that I have read, but already I look forward to her stories because certain elements of her books are so well done. Ribbon’s world building is terrific. She gives us a credible universe for each story, one that is complete without going into scads of details when it is not necessary. Ribbon also has the gift of bringing magic and its practitioners to life as thoroughly as any common place profession and its employees. This enforcement agency suffers from cut backs and dingy office space, and overworks its employees because of budget cuts. Within this world magic is both commonplace and a talent to be taught and nurtured.
The characters that Ribbon creates for her stories are just as well done as her world building. David is such a tragic figure, but one that never gives in to self pity or bitterness. Vaughn too has many interesting layers. A self described “slut” for most of his years, Vaughn is tired of his promiscuous ways and wants to find someone to love. The author makes both men authentic sympathetic individuals who she then surrounds with equally moving and real secondary characters. I especially love the grumpy Trekker, Vaughn’s partner at the agency, and Cole, a young homeless sorcerer. They really helped bring this story to life. Less well rounded in personality was Todd, the brother who cursed David and has spent the rest of his life being his companion. Given his was the curse that started it all and that he was bound to his brother by guilt as well as love, I think his character should have reflected more of the dichotomy inherent in their situation. He seemed a little shallow to me unfortunately.
The beginning of this book will absolutely make you cry. In fact the poignancy and heartbreak of those earlier scenes is so powerful, so pain filled, that the feelings they engender are never really recaptured.
“David sat down on the next swing over. It hung just a little too low to be comfortable, but he didn’t want to lose this taste of friendship by moving down to the other end of the set.
He managed to kick his way up almost as high as Andy, though he had to keep letting go of the chain to push his shaggy brown hair out of his eyes.
Todd would see them when he got home from camp. David wondered what sort of a reaction he would get, once Todd realized that his friends didn’t mind David quite so much as David had been led to believe.
It was nearly dark when Todd finally found them talking and laughing, still on the swings. David stopped pumping his legs when he saw his brother stomping toward them.
With the joy of the scenes before when a lonely young boy realizes that someone will play with him, the boys swinging together on the playground, a rarity for young David, to the sight of his angry brother stomping towards them, well, it will feel absolutely spot on to anyone who knows young kids and sibling rivalry. But in this case, a fight between an older jealous sibling (who has consistently bullied his brother) and his baby brother will have far more grave consequences than can be fixed by a bandaid and a time out in their room. The innocence of David combined with a child’s fear and sense of betrayal haunt this book for several reasons. One reason is that it is so beautifully written, the emotions flowing from the boys are visceral in their impact. And secondly, the consequences upon the siblings and their relationship are never spelled out clearly. Yes, Todd became his brother’s companion but how did they feel about that? Where is the realism to their complicated relationship? Nor do we see Todd’s reaction to the curse being lifted. This whole element is lacking from the story and when it is such an emotional component right from the start, it should be included in the story as well to make this a well rounded plot and feel complete at the end.
Aside from this gap in the narrative, I loved this story. I did feel the denouement lacking in intensity. It just sort of happened. Another missed opportunity. Others may not feel that way. The majority of this story is terrific. In fact its downright magical, including elements of angst in the form of a young teenager discarded by his family. I definitely recommend this story and am off to locate more of Madeleine Ribbon’s stories to read,
Cover Art by Brooke Albrecht is gorgeous. I think it know where the design was going with the picture but I am just not sure anyone would know what the story was about from the cover. I wouldn’t and it that part of the cover’s job?