The Curse Keepers (The Curse Keepers #1) by Denise Grover Swank
Genre: New Adult Urban Fantasy
Release date: November 19 2013
Source: eARC via NetGalley
In a word: A fascinating twist on a historical event; a realistic portrayal of a struggling family; but a story with a distasteful chauvinistic male character that made my blood boil with frustration.
Let me start this review by saying a lot of readers will enjoy this book. The Curse Keepers has received lots of four- and five-star reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, but frankly I’m baffled by all the good press. This is one of those circumstances where a book looks good on paper, but just didn’t work for me. It fell short for me on so many levels: the writing was just so-so, the plot meandered and went inexplicably off-course once or twice, and worst of all, the romantic male lead of the story was a complete asshole. The plot reminded me of so many other plots out there right now—a young girl discovers she is *special* in some paranormal way and must join forces with a *special* boy in order to…wait for it…save the world. I call this The Buffy Syndrome. Joss Whedon may not be the first writer to tackle this oft-used plot device, but he did it so well that I can’t help but compare all others to the incomparable Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Briefly, here’s what The Curse Keepers is about. Ellie is a twenty-something single girl working hard to help keep her family’s bed-and-breakfast, the Dare Inn, going by working as a waitress to help bring in extra money. But one day a man comes into the restaurant where Ellie works and her life changes forever. His very presence makes it hard to breathe, and when he unexpectedly grabs her hand, electricity sizzles through her veins and leaves an indelible mark on her palm. Collin is a Curse Keeper, and as it turns out, so is Ellie. By touching, they have opened the door to the spirit realm, and they now have only seven days to close it before all hell breaks loose on earth.
The author did some things very well with The Curse Keepers. Setting the story in the historical location of Roanoke Island in North Carolina, the site of the famous Lost Colony of Roanoke, was a unique way to put a different spin on why the Colony disappeared. And I did enjoy the authentic feel of a family affected by the bad economy and their struggles to keep their business afloat in uncertain times. Ellie’s mother is dead and her father has Alzheimer’s, and I did love that the author puts her main character in a dire situation from the get-go. Ellie’s father has important information about the Curse, but it’s buried somewhere under the effects of his disease, and Ellie can’t rely on him to help her. I also liked her devotion to her family, especially the relationship she has with her stepmother Myra, who runs the Inn almost single-handedly and must care for Ellie’s father as well.
The premise of Ellie and Collin having to work together to magically close the door to the spirit realm started strong, but quickly turned sour for me as soon as Collin opened his mouth. Collin has got to be one of my least favorite fictional characters ever, and he’s the main reason I didn’t connect with this story. When he first meets Ellie, he mocks her job as a waitress, calls her self-centered, and treats her like a child. He’s bossy and rude and disrespectful. But guess what? Collin is HOT. Collin is a hot guy with oodles of sex appeal, and Ellie is instantly attracted to him (despite her denials), and since this is a New Adult novel, you can bet there’s going to be sex between the main characters. Although Ellie attempts to tell Collin to go to hell, she inevitably falls for his sexual charms. Damn you, Ellie! A smart cookie you are not.
The author throws in a very strange side plot involving a nasty man named Marino, a man who fixates on Ellie and stalks her for the rest of the book. Collin has a business relationship with Marino, but when Ellie gets tangled up in it, the story takes a very dark and distasteful turn, and honestly I couldn’t figure out what it had to do with the main plot.
I was fascinated by the Native American mythology relating to the Curse, and I could tell the author did lots of research. As Curse Keepers, Ellie and Collin are able to sense the “Manitou,” or life force, within all living creatures. I wanted more of that, however, and less of the sexual shenanigans between Ellie and Collin, which strangely made the story feel immature. When their annoying bickering suddenly turns to romance, the dialog between the two becomes sickeningly clichéd and cheesy, and the reader is treated to lines like this:
The mark on my back might protect me from the evil spirits, but what was going to protect my heart from Collin Dailey?
“You must be an enchantress. You have me under your spell.”
Ugh. Some readers might love stuff like this, but frankly, I’m looking for more depth and originality in my reading material.
A few funny moments pop up when Collin and Ellie are trying to track down the relics that they need for the ceremony to close the door, when they suddenly become skilled con artists and use role-play in order to steal the relics. Ironically, I almost liked their characters better when they were pretending to be someone else. An abrupt cliffhanger left me feeling, quite literally, as if the author herself had pushed me off the cliff. Yes, the story continues in a second book, but I’m afraid I won’t be there to see what happens next.
Thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
You can find The Curse Keepers here: