In advance, thank you to E.E. Byrnes for offering me a free eBook through Booksprout in exchange for an honest review.
E.E. Byrnes’ The Curse of the Cheval Mallet follows Jenelyn Doe as she continues her Journey, a ritual in which every young woman in Jenelyn’s family travels the world alone, guided by the Spirits, who watch over their family and will guide Jenelyn to the place she is meant to be. The Spirits have led Jenelyn from Germany to France, where she will discover new people, cultures…and curses.
The best way to describe this book is atmospheric. This novel is intended to immerse you in the sights and sounds and smells of France, harvested from the author’s imagination (or true experience—I wouldn’t doubt it based on the vivid details!) and painted onto the page. The gentle, exploratory plot offers varying slices of the ambience of France, and the supernatural element (albeit relatively sparse) adds fun darker-toned moments of intrigue to an otherwise friendly, feel-good story—and the climax is where all that peaks. In fact, I would’ve been quite happy if that climax had been drawn out longer so that I could spend more time in that shocking moment.
I found Jenelyn’s arc to be extremely relatable and relevant; though the ups and downs and progress of her inner journey (pun absolutely intended!) were jarring at transitions, I truly appreciated that the topic was tackled.
On a side note, I also appreciated the introduction of Cristobal, a (potential) love interest from Spain, and Jenelyn’s navigation through this new challenge/adventure.
As I mentioned, the plot is exploratory rather than goal-driven, so the pacing can be slow (or leisurely, depending on your perspective), and many scenes occurred and passed without seeming to support the rest of the narrative. I also found that the style told the reader facts directly, which can have a distancing effect, as opposed to showing, hinting, and/or implying through actions and details, which helps immerse the audience as much as possible. As an example that was NOT part of the actual book: “She was sad” (telling) versus “Tears drained down her cheeks” (showing). I found a similar pattern with the dialogue: most lines appeared explanation-driven, having the characters speak facts or emotions overtly.
In sum, The Curse of the Cheval Mallet was a cozy light read to vividly draw your imagination to modern France—and a crafty curse!
P.S. I also appreciated the inclusion of Catholicism in the book, but I did want to point out that not every included aspect is representative of our Faith, and so I found it would be best to take those moments with a grain of salt.