Review: Heart of the Curiosity

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The secret lies with the Heart.

Born with a magical knack for manipulating emotions, Leodora’s only dream is to ensure her talented little sister dances on the biggest, brightest stage in the Republic: The Curiosity, a grand old theater of tradition and innovation. After escaping a cruel carnival, Leo secures her sister a place in the Curiosity’s chorus line, and herself a job as a professional audience member, swaying the crowd’s mood with her magic. The girls have a home for the first time in their lives.

Then a tragic accident darkens the theater. A greedy businessman begins blackmailing Leo, and financial woes threaten to close the show forever. The Curiosity’s sole hope lies in a mythical power source hidden beneath the maze-like passages and trapdoors of the theater—the Heart. And Leo’s only friend Paxton, nephew of the theater’s stagemistress, is the key to finding it.

While Leo and Paxton hunt for the Heart, the blackmailer’s threats loom larger. Mysterious figures, cryptic clues, and deadly traps hinder the search at every turn. If the friends cannot recover the Heart in time, Leo and her sister will be cast out of the only home they’ve ever known, and the final curtain will fall on The Curiosity.

Goodreads Link: Heart of the Curiosity
Author: H. L. Burke
Genre: YA Steampunk/Gaslamp Fantasy
Rating: 5/5 stars

Steampunk and performers seem to go hand-in-hand, especially circuses. The main focus of this book is a ballet theater, which makes good use of steampunk technology, but there’s also a tiny snail circus which sounds like lots of fun!

This story is enjoyable and imaginative. The setting is rich with details about the theater, the steampunk city, and the ways that everyone’s little magical Knacks interact with each other. The mystery about the Heart is interesting with a few twists, but the real draw for me was the interaction between the characters. Leo and Paxton have a great friendship, and some of the side characters like Coriander and Clarion are so charming. I wish we’d had more time for the theater “family.”

I loved the little “Easter egg” mention of San Azula, which implies that the book takes place in the same world as Nyssa Glass. Paxton and Ellis should swap notes sometime.

Three trigger warnings for this book: it contains spiders (which are friendly but described as large and fuzzy), death (not explicit, but on-screen), and also mentions of sexual assault (off-screen and not explicit, but enough to make me take a break). Most of the story is light-hearted and fun but the main character is haunted by her past trauma.

More about the trauma, it’s not really a spoiler because it’s mentioned from the first scene. Leo is on the run from a circus manager who abused her. Because of this, she’s very jumpy, doesn’t trust men, and is extremely protective of her younger sister. All too often, abuse is a heavy-handed and cheap plot device for a female character. The author writes about Leo’s emotions carefully and delicately, with a lot of realism. It’s not used just for shock value. It’s done well, but it’s because of the realism that it may be hard to read. I also appreciated that she didn’t just “get over” her PTSD magically, it’s obviously going to be something she continues to work on.

Favorite meal: all the pastries sounded so delicious. The baker has the magical ability to add any flavor into her creations, and she’s always experimenting with new things. I really want to try the lemon and sunshine scones with whipped butter. My mouth was watering in every scene where the characters were eating, which was frequently.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys steampunk, circuses/theaters, and girls who overcome trauma. Also fans of Neil Gaiman, Tamora Pierce, and Gail Carriger.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


I'm an author, a blogger, and a nerd. I read and write fantasy.