A magical remake of the classic Romeo and Juliet setup that could have impressed me more.
For twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find.
Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she’s been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.
There were a lot of things that I loved about this book. The premise was fascinating: a pair of travelling circus families that hated each other, going so far as to be superstitiously terrified of even touching a member of the other clan. Though the conflict between the two families seemed inflated to a neutral party (the reader), the story was framed in such a way that it made sense why each family hated the other so much.
A complex and layered story grew out of this conflict, touching on issues dealing with environmental protection, stigmas, and body image. I especially loved the (somewhat unexpected) focus on the chemical plant in the town the story was set in. The plot line that grew out of the chemical plant was unique and realistic, with a dash of honest terror. Without the social commentary woven through the story, TWOF would have been a fairly straightforward forbidden romance, and I’m glad that it wasn’t.
Both protagonists had clear personalities. I loved seeing them interact with the rest of their families, especially with their simultaneous love and hatred of the shows. Unfortunately, I never really shipped Lace and Cluck. They were an okay couple, but for a plot that relied so much on romance, I never got that spark of “ohmygod I NEED the ship to sail” that I expected.
The rest of the characters had the same lifelike realism as Cluck and Lace, adding their own layers to the story. I liked how characters that seemed minor at the beginning ended up being really important at the end. I also appreciated the fact that lots of different conflicts existed between various characters, going beyond the obvious family vs family hatred.
The writing of TWOF is gorgeous, with the descriptions being the most impressive part. I feel like I’ve seen both of the family’s shows, like I know exactly what their costumes look like. Honestly, the shows may be my favorite part of the book.
I loved the way that the author wove the characters’ culture into the story through languages. Each chapter starts with a quote, either in French (signifying Chuck’s POV) or in Spanish (for Lace’s POV), and characters periodically speak in their native tongue. This was a simple but powerful way to weave the characters’ cultures into the story.
The story clearly conveys lots of thought-provoking themes, and it does so with a gentle hand that most authors can’t pull off without seeming preachy. The mirror-like quality that the author wove in (where extremely similar situations play out in both families without them knowing) was a nice touch that added power to the “why the frick do you hate each other” theme, though at times it seemed a bit too perfect.
The only problem I had with this book was the plot itself. The pacing was moderate and constant, leaving me wondering what the main plot was and what the subplots were. I never felt like the story built to a clear climax, and the ending felt abrupt, undoing some of the story’s original magic. I liked all of the different parts of the story, but I’m not sure that they all came together the way that the author intended. When the story ended, I was left wishing that more had happened, and wondering what exactly the story was supposed to be. I didn’t hate this book at all, but I wanted more from it.
I would recommend this book to people who love descriptive books and who like contemporary stories that have a magical quality, even if magic isn’t involved. This book is not for people seeking a fast-paced or intense romance, but it is a sweet and thoughtful story with strong social commentary.