A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
Fall in love, break the curse.
It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.
Nothing has ever been easy for Harper Lacy. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.
Break the curse, save the kingdom.
A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.
Every now and then, you hear about a book being hyped before release and it totally matches those high expectations. For me, A Curse So Dark and Lonely was one of those books. I’ve had it on my Netgalley TBR pile for absolutely ages, but since the book is shortly to be released, I figured it was time to sit down and actually read it. And honestly, I’m a little lost for words. It is everything I wanted in a YA fantasy novel. There’s a good dose of slow-burn romance in there, some brilliant Beauty and the Beast retelling moments in there (let’s be honest, it’s the best Dinsey movie), and the characters are well-developed. Plus, and I feel like a bit of an asshole for even having to mention this in 2019, we get actual diversity in this book.
I’ll admit, at first I wasn’t entirely sold. The story starts out in DC which for me was a bit of a detraction. I get that Harper is a ‘real world’ character who gets thrust into a fantasy world she has to navigate, but for me I wasn’t a big fan of the brief bit of urban fantasy we get. Don’t get me wrong, it can be done well, but I just fell out of love with it a while back. I wasn’t the biggest fan of City of Bones being set in NY, and the weird blend of fantasy and real world in The Hazel Wood also didn’t quite cut it for me. Thankfully, it’s a pretty brief glimpse of DC before we are thrown into the world of Emberfall.
The descriptions here are gorgeous and I fell in love instantly. I liked that the world was revealed in little pieces, and that so much of it remained a mystery. Admittedly, coming straight off the back of reading Skyward by Brandon Sanderson, there were a few worldbuilding gaps in this book for me, but I didn’t think there was too much of an issue with that. I guess because the characters are isolated in one area due to the curse, there’s a lot of worldbuilding stuff that can be forgiven. Also, we’re getting a book two, so I’m hoping some things will be addressed later.
As for the characters, this is where I truly lost my mind. I was curious to see how another retelling of Beauty and the Beast would hold up, considering the phenomenal success of SJM’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series, but boy was I wrong to worry. I loved Harper so much. She was so strong and resilient and her kindness totally shone through on every page. I liked seeing her challenge Rhen’s prejudices and general distrust and temper them with bravery and trust. On the flip side, at no point did the character come across as ridiculously naïve either, which was quite refreshing. Instead, Harper is incredibly complex and nuanced. She also has cerebral palsy, which is something I have never actually seen well-written in YA before (although tbf I’ve only read two books that included characters with the disability). It’s very well handled and I can’t commend the author enough for doing all the research before going and publishing this. I liked how some characters responded to Harper’s disability by seeing it as a weakness and tried to compensate by protecting her as though she were a delicate flower, and how Harper never really accepts that. In fact, she’s as damn badass as they come. She climbs out of windows, learns how to throw knives, tries multiple times to escape on horseback and is generally just too awesome for words. But just as her disability isn’t a defining part of her character. It is also something she doesn’t just brush under the carpet. There are moments when she accepts that she sometimes struggles to walk, or gets fatigued quicker than others. And though she doesn’t rely too much on other characters to help her deal with that, neither does she just pretend it isn’t a thing. Like I said, I thought it was really well handled. This is my opinion here though. I do not have cerebral palsy so I’m not sure if I’ve just naively skipped over some stuff others might have picked out (I did read a review the other day that complained about a lot of ablest language from the villains).
The other characters are also pretty cool. Rhen is revealed in stages, and he’s a bit like a Shrek onion because there’s so many layers to him. He’s an easy character to dislike earlier on but he really comes into his own later in the book and the transformation was very sweet. Likewise, Grey was well developed and seemed realistic. He was kind and loyal and made some tough decisions, But I also liked that both he and Rhen were sometimes incredibly selfish and made decisions that would harm others for the good of the kingdom. Not that that’s a good thing at all, but as flaws go, I think that’s a pretty interesting one for a prince and his guard to have. I wasn’t quite so keen on the brother later on in the book, but I think that’s because we didn’t see enough of his character to actually understand his swinging mood changes. Again, I hope this is something that is explored in later books.
There were also several plot twists at the end of the novel. Although I figured out how the plot of this book would end about halfway through, I did find the twist that paves the way for the sequel to be surprising. I’d be curious to know what others thought of that one (though please keep comments spoiler free at least until the book is released).
I will say that this retelling is incredibly dark, and there are several trigger warnings I want to mention for anyone who might be interested in picking up a copy of the book. Obviously, as a Beauty and the Beast retelling there are trigger warnings for abduction and false imprisonment, but also talks about cancer, attempted sexual assault, sexual assault, mentions of suicidal thoughts and torture. That’s a pretty long list, and the content may not be suitable for everyone.
Overall, I’m going to give A Curse So Dark and Lonely a 10/10 stars. I truly loved it, and I practically flew through the book, and I am already itching to purchase a physical copy when it gets released later this month.
Has anyone else read this book or plans to? What did you all think of it? I love to hear your opinions on the books I read and review, so feel free to leave a comment in the comment section below to join in the discussion.
Until next time guys ❤