Disclaimer: A digital copy of the book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
A little over a year ago, I read Kendare Blake’s excellent Anna Dressed in Blood. Only a few months ago, I read its less-than-stellar sequel, Girl of Nightmares. I bring up these two books because that’s what Marvin’s Curse reminds me of the most – boy meets girl, but the girl is a ghost who must deal with the trappings of Hell.
However, while Cas in Anna Dressed in Blood was well-rounded, and Anna was a nice girl who could become extremely terrifying, Marvin and Stella… eh…
Marvin is supposed to be a kid with a lot of issues. His father died recently, and seemed to be replaced immediately with a new stepfather, who wanted them all to uproot to a new house to make the transition easier. Marvin attends a special school, has been in therapy, takes medication, and he has the particular burden of being able to see ghosts, who usually try to attack him. Or at least make him listen to their woes.
Oh, and the new house overlooks a graveyard.
After an argument with his parents, Marvin storms outside to find a girl his age hanging around in the graveyard. She carries all the hallmarks of being one of the spirits that bother Marvin every waking moment, but for some strange reason, she has no memories whatsoever. The only clue to her backstory is a business card for a pawnbroker’s shop in the realm of Moghador, which happens to have a gateway right in that very graveyard. Marvin resolves to help Stella regain her memories, and also keep the truth away from her. However, it turns out that Stella may have a lot to do with Moghador, and that mysterious pawnbroker’s.
One of the strengths of Marvin’s Curse is its main character. Marvin is initially presented as angry and lashing out for little reason, but soon enough the pieces start to fit together. He may be irrationally angry at his stepfather, and may lash out at anyone or anything that comes too close, but this behaviour makes sense for somebody who’s in the second stage of grief, since it’s hinted that Marvin’s father only died recently. Ever since his father’s death, Marvin’s been able to see ghosts and spirits, and for somebody who’s only just getting over a death, having ghosts surround you and describe how they can’t pass on and want to use you as a sponge for all their negative feelings would suck. Believe me, I’d be a bit angry as well.
As Marvin progresses through Moghador and learns about the dark secrets surrounding Old Kedigan’s shop, he does actually grow as a character. Sure, he still has a short fuse, but he learns that his behaviour sometimes has consequences, and that he has to start taking responsibility. His father’s ghost is still around and wants him to take up the family business. The men on Marvin’s father’s side are all spiritual mediums, and the baton always passes down to the next son. The ghost of his father hasn’t passed on yet because he wants to see if Marvin will be alright with his new gift.
Stella, on the other hand, is merely okay. She starts off as a confused young woman in a graveyard who decides the designer label in her jeans is as good a name as any. (Stella McCartney, for the curious amongst you.) She gets more and more clues to her identity as the mystery unravels, but I wouldn’t say she’s the most dynamic character I’ve ever seen. Stella’s still very similar to her first appearance even by the end of the book, and hasn’t really learned anything. Well, she’s learned about how she died and how she came to be abandoned in the graveyard with no memory, but she hasn’t grown as a character in a meaningful way. You’d think learning about all the bad stuff that’s happened to her would affect her personality in some way, but it really doesn’t.
Stella by far has the most terrible things happen to her, but there’s no real outward show of these things affecting her. Except yelling: “You pig!” or “You monster!” at Old Kedigan or another demon once in a while, she mostly stays the same. She sees innocent people dying in Moghador, is hit with the revelation that she had some part in it, learns the full extent of the horrors the villain partakes in, and how much he hates Stella that he dragged her into death with him. You know, things that would really shake your foundations.
Alright, I’ll stop there because I’m repeating myself, but I did find Stella a bit of a weakly-written character. Marvin learns and grows on his journey, and Stella doesn’t. The only real thing I can recommend about Stella is that she gets in a mildly funny line once in a while and argues with Marvin like they’re a married couple.
Another negative is just how juvenile the prose can be at times. This is Debra J. Edwards’ first YA novel, and the dialogue and prose just aren’t up to scratch for what realistic teenagers would be saying. Real teenagers don’t always communicate in snarky quips. Nor should the prose make these silly little asides in the name of comedy. Nine times out of ten, in every single book I’ve read, a snarky aside is about as jarring as a terrible pun. The equivalent of a boxing glove sprouting out of the page and knocking you for six.
Along with snarky asides, there are moments where exclamation points are used rather unnecessarily. Whenever I read a book that has a sudden exclamation point, like: “I saw a figure coming out of the front door. It was Bobby!”, it makes me feel like I’m reading a novel for very young children. So, whenMarvin’s Curse had a few of these moments (and it did – I unfortunately lost my notes (blame my computer) for how many there were in the first 100 or so pages and got tired of highlighting every time I noticed one), it kind of took away from the reading experience.
‘Marvin took a deep breath… then another. In his sweaty hand was the St Christopher, quite ironic given where he was. He clutched it tightly as he took a third and final gulp then burst through the doors taking up position in the middle of the room adopting a stance not dissimilar to Peter Pan!’(Page 152)
‘The chain swung out, the silver catching the light. Go to sleep, damn you!
A large brick by all accounts!’
‘This man was as wide as he was tall!’
‘“Oh, that figure,’ said Marvin’s dad, dreamily. ‘She reminds me of your mum…”’
Marvin squirmed and shuddered. Too much information!’
There’s also some really iffy dialogue here and there. Thankfully, it’s only really towards the end, but it really cheapens the novel when the villain sounds like some laughable cartoon character who goes: “Mwahaha!” and “This cannot be! You have defeated me!”, whilst the protagonists spout: “You’re my father? No! No! That cannot be! That’s impossible!” and “How could you!?”
For example, check out some of Old Kedigan’s last words:
‘A twin! I longed for a son. TWO boys they said. Liars! Then on arrival, one dead, one alive. Not a son, just YOU!’
‘You know that when you died, I did cry… with relief!’
While Old Kedigan never came across as very intimidating to me (since he just seems to be a bitter old man who screams and rants rather than doing anything threatening), I was expecting something rather good out of the ending to Marvin’s Curse. Heck, I’d stuck around for a long meandering plot cul-de-sac in which Marvin and co., make a futile attempt to break into his warehouse and steal back some stolen memories. There’s quite a few mentions of Old Kedigan even allying himself with a few demons, the most powerful of which being a figure known as Erasmus Flint. Where is Erasmus Flint after Moghador has been released from Old Kedigan’s control? He doesn’t do anything. He just stands around whilst all of the wayward souls he had in his thrall find their way towards the light. It’s not even out of a change of heart or anything like that. Real intimidating, eh?
If you are looking for a quick, easy jaunt through a YA paranormal novel, you could do much worse than Marvin’s Curse. It has its odd charm here and there, but unfortunately it’s let down by some deficiencies in the writing and dialogue, along with a rather unconvincing villain and a less-than-stellar (no pun intended) ending. 2/5.