Curses by Lish McBride

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 naive 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?

TITLE: Curses
AUTHOR: Lish McBride
PUBLISHER: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
YEAR: 2021
LENGTH: 448 pages
AGE: Young Adult
GENRE: Fantasy

Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Secondary Character(s), Gay/Achillean Minor Character(s), Genderqueer/Nonbinary Secondary Character(s), Ace/Aro Secondary Character(s).

CURSES is a Beauty and the Beast retelling which takes a few specific element of the older story: one person cursed to appear as a Beast, and one person who is generally considered beautiful being required to help them break the curse in exchange for forgiving a parent’s trespasses. Onto this basic premise the author has built a small world by which a larger story is supported. I like the story, I like the dynamic between merit and Tevin, between Merit and her various suitors, and generally with her group of friends and collaborators for them to help break the curse with as little meddling from her mother as possible. 

Merit is far from the only person to be cursed by a godling's capricious whim. Godlings are rich fae who move in monied social circles and back up their whims with magic. Godling curses, even when meant to be kind, often cause trouble for the recipients. One of my favorite little details from early in the book is the story of a pair of step-sisters where one was blessed by a godling to have jewels and flowers tumble from her lips when she speaks. Her stepsister is quick to point out that constantly disgorging something, even something valuable, is a deeply unpleasant way to spend one's time. The jewels sometimes lead to cracked teeth, and she's constantly sneezing due to an allergy to flower pollen. The stepsister who speaks up is cursed to have reptiles and amphibians (sometimes venomous ones) pour from her lips whenever she speaks. This is a fairytale I was already passably familiar with, and putting it in the context of Beauty and the Beast is a very smart move narratively, as it represents a similar level of whim and malice as that in the main story. It means that Merit is far from the only major character with a curse, a situation which continues to develop. As for Merit herself, she was cursed after refusing to marry a man twenty years older than her in favor of hoping that the suitor her own age would marry her. But he took her mother's money to go away, and then Merit was cursed by a Godling to have to marry someone her mother chooses or else find someone who loves her even as a beast.

I appreciate stories with a modern sensibility to finding oneself in a magical world. This shows up in a few places, distinctly, one of the earliest of which is a discussion of how the temporary relief from curses can be at obtained through a tincture made from a magical plant, called bloom. There’s a brief discussion of what basically amounts to this world's version of subsidized healthcare, making sure everyone who needs Bloom can afford it. While I understand that some people might find moments like this a bit jarring, I enjoy them as they make clear that while this is a fairytale setting it’s not trying to be strictly medieval. Those two things don’t have to be intertwined, as the number of popular contemporary fantasy books can attest. I like stories of rogues and tricksters, deceptions and heists, and I thoroughly enjoyed Tevin as a main character. He’s the one forced to help Merit after his mother tries to steal one of the magical flowers. Latimer makes an excellent Gaston, with specific reasons beyond pure ego to pursue Merit and play the villainous role for a long stretch. There's a fairly large cast of secondary characters, but they become more relevant at a manageable pace. The story sticks to three narrators, which is quite manageable.

I'd happily read more books by this author, especially ones set in this world. The pacing is a bit odd at first, but it smooths out quickly. It's a retelling of a story I like, in a modern style I enjoy, casually queer, with heists and roguish main characters. It feels almost perfectly crafted to be a book I'd enjoy, and it pays off well.

Graphic/Explicit CW for grief, confinement, emotional abuse.

Moderate CW for alcohol, toxic relationship, child abuse, neglect/abandonment, vomit, body horror, violence, gun violence, animal death, parental death.

Minor CW for pregnancy, adult/minor relationship, drug use.

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The portrait of a teenage girl, slashed through by claws to show dark brown fur under her skin


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