Of Curses and Kisses
by Sandhya Menon
For Princess Jaya Rao, nothing is more important than family. That’s why when she finds out she’ll be attending the same elite boarding school as Grey Emerson, a member of the rival royal family behind a humiliating scandal involving her little sister, she schemes to get revenge on the young nobleman in order to even the score between their families. The plan? Make him fall in love with her and then break his heart the way his family has broken hers.
Grey Emerson doesn’t connect with people easily. Due to a curse placed on his family by the Raos that his superstitious father unquestioningly, annoyingly believes in, Grey grew up internalising that he was doomed from the day he was born. Sequestered away at St. Rosetta’s Academy, he’s lived a quiet existence in relative solitude. That is, until Jaya Rao bursts into his life. Jaya is exuberant and elegant and unlike anyone Grey has ever met before, but he can’t help feeling that she’s hiding something behind her beautiful smile and charmingly awkward attempts at flirting. Despite his better instincts, though, he starts to fall for her.
Jaya’s plan isn’t totally going according to plan. For one, Grey is aggravatingly handsome. And for two, she’s realising there’s maybe more to him than his name and his family imply.
The stars are crossed for Jaya and Grey. But can they still find their fairy-tale ending?
I received an eARC of Of Curses and Kisses from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Sandhya Menon is a YA author I’ve been meaning to check out for a while now, so when I was sent a copy of her new Beauty and the Beast retelling via NetGalley I was excited to finally check out her work. Unfortunately, I ended up not enjoying it all that much.
Menon’s writing is very readable and, while quite a bit of the wording in this novel is a tad too flowery, particularly the dialogue, she’s an author I would try again in future. This isn’t a series I’m interested in continuing, though.
Of Curses and Kisses follows Indian princess Jaya and British nobleman Grey, who both attend St. Rosetta’s Academy in America. Jaya and her younger sister, Isha, are newly arrived at the school after a media scandal involving Isha that Jaya believes Grey is to blame for. Jaya and Grey’s families already have a turbulent history, stretching back to Britain’s colonisation of India, and Jaya decides she’s going to make Grey fall in love with her and then his break his heart to get her revenge. Because this is a romance, though, everything changes when the two develop genuine feelings for each other.
I really appreciate how this novel brings in the history between Britain and India. That Jaya’s family hate Grey’s family because of a stolen, important jewel is something I could completely believe. In the 19th century, Prince Albert had the sacred Koh-i-Noor diamond re-cut and set in Queen Victoria’s crown, and it’s still set in the crowns of the British monarchs today which is gross. In fact the theft of the Koh-i-Noor is what inspired the very first English-language detective novel, The Moonstone.
Almost everything else about this novel, though, really got on my nerves – and I wish it didn’t!
Like I said I really appreciated Menon, through Jaya, not letting the way India was treated be forgotten, but at the same time I wanted Jaya to open her eyes. Yes, her country was treated horrendously – but she’s lived all over the world, doesn’t want for anything and has a special ruby necklace that her father bought her in Dubai. Whenever she mentioned this history it was mainly focusing on her and Grey’s families, but what about all of the people who suffered who weren’t members of the aristocracy? Jaya talks a lot about her duty to her country, but she never really talks about what it is about her country and its people that she loves. Everything was how they perceived her, but we never learned what she thought of them other than the journalists she’s (understandably) angry with for dragging her sister’s name through the dirt.
I don’t for one second want to imply that because someone’s wealthy they can’t have problems or that their problems aren’t valid, but something I’m learning about myself is that I’m just not into contemporary books about royals. It’s difficult to watch someone complaining about how hard their life is while they’re on a limobus on their way to a school ski trip.
Other than Isha, I didn’t care for any of the side characters. This is an international school, and yet the French-speaking student is the only one who drops any non-English vocabulary into his sentences because let’s not forget he can speak French, guys! French is popular in YA right now so let’s really hammer that home!
And then there’s the side ‘love triangle’ beween Daphne Elizabeth, Alaric and Caterina and I just didn’t care at all. I’m very aware that I’m an adult reading this book starring teenagers and aimed at teenagers, so I don’t want to criticise these teenagers for being teenagers; your emotions are heightened and everything feels like the end of the world when you’re 17 (I remember it well!), but I still found it hard not to keep rolling my eyes. None of these kids felt like real people.
In fact, sadly, Grey didn’t either. Most of the time because Menon rarely described him as a human being. He’s constantly called ‘feral’ and ‘lupine’ and it’s just weird. Also this book doesn’t help at all with the stereotype that the British nobility still live in the Regency era. They certainly live in a different world to the kind of world the majority of us live in, but I find it incredibly hard to believe that a 21st century father would teach his son that he murdered his mother because she died in childbirth. I mean… what the hell? Grey mentions that the doctor couldn’t get to her in time and all she had was the housekeeper. Uh, Grey wasn’t born during the Blitz! Call for a bloody ambulance, the NHS is a thing that exists!
The ultimate ‘villain’ also didn’t talk the way a human being talks, and by the end of this novel I just wasn’t enjoying how it was written anymore. Everything was wrapped up far too quickly – to the point where it was a little boring to read? – and I honestly think my overriding thought upon finishing this novel was that it didn’t need to be a Beauty and the Beast retelling.
If this had just been a YA novel about the love story between two people from wealthy families, one from Britain and one from India, and how the history between Britain and India might impact that relationship, I think it would have been a stronger book. By turning it into a book with a curse and a potentially magical necklace, I personally feel as though Menon has focused too much on making it a retelling instead of exploring the novel’s themes even further.
If you’re into books about royals, you’ll probably like this book – unfortunately it wasn’t for me!