I haven’t really read a YA fantasy that is written in an experimental present tense narrative before. It makes “Curses of Scale” read a bit like a dreamscape, or like a stream of consciousness, especially as it’s also a bit of a reverse timeline. Allow me to explain: the main character is Niena, or Squirrel, but we don’t meet her until about 14% into the book. That first part of the book is spent on her future husband as he races toward saving Neina from her destiny, 15 years in the future. Then, we get snapped back to our MC and her grandfather and see that she really just wants to learn how to be a bard. Then a dragon shows up and things go from bad to worse pretty quickly, especially when a meddling fairy brings Neina’s husband to the past. Why the dragon shows up and what it’s after isn’t really clear until just past the 70% mark, unless you go back and read the synopsis. Then you know that Neina is cursed to become the dragon if she kills it, but will lose those she loves if she doesn’t. It’s an interesting premise that is dark and harrowing because of the stakes and all the action that takes place, but is hampered by the narrative style.
A first person present tense narrative is really tricky, it’s one of those styles that you either love or, well, you don’t. I wasn’t adequately prepared for the narrative style based on the synopsis, so it took me a really long time to get into the story, let alone figure out what was happening, the locations, or feel any kind of connection to the main characters. Kudos to the author for tackling such a challenging narrative style, but it is one of preference where this style was just not working for me. However, if this is the kind of style you enjoy, I say give this book a try as the author creates an intriguing land and the story is otherwise fast paced where the characters are constantly trying to out run the dragon that has risen to destroy their empire.
Once you get into the story though and kind of figure out what’s going on, and the present tense doesn’t yank you out of the story, Reeves writes some truly lovely and clever prose. There are several scenarios and instances where the subtly and the double meanings that are in the narrative are really clever and well done, that’s not an easy thing to pull off without coming across as heavy handed! I also enjoyed how Oberon was written into the story. He’s this clever but playful old fey that you can see slipping into madness. His dialogue and interactions with the characters always made me smile, even if he made life harder for all those he interacted with.
On paper, this sounded like my perfect book: a strong female lead with a difficult choice to make, who squares off with a dragon all while trying to carve her own path in the world. But I never could get into the flow of the story and be swept up in the characters or locations. A present tense experimental narrative is just not something that I enjoy it turns out. It left me confused as to what was happening and even now I only have a vague idea of what was going on. But Reeves is a talented writer and has a lot of potential as a story teller. So he is definitely someone to watch, and if this kind of narrative style is your jam, I say you should definitely give this book a try! Unfortunately, it just wasn’t for me so I’m giving it 3 stars since I’m still not entirely sure what happened? But the author does have a real knack for prose! And thanks to the author for providing me with a copy for an honest review!
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