I received a free e-ARC of A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer from NetGalley in return for review consideration; receipt of a free copy has not affected my opinion or the contents of this review. A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a fantasy novel was was published by Bloomsbury in the UK on 29th January 2019.
Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:
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.
This is apparently the season for Beauty and the Beast retellings! In some ways, A Curse So Dark and Lonely is fairly true to the original, but Kemmerer definitely makes it her own, and puts a great, modern spin on everything.
One of the main different aspects of Curse is that Harper, the book’s Beauty, has cerebral palsy. It’s wonderful to have a main character with a disability, and one doesn’t feel like it’s just there for brownie points. Harper’s life has definitely been impacted by her disability, but it’s also given her a different perspective on the world, and I think that sets her character above a lot of the cookie cutter-type heroines in YA fiction. I think it’s also key that the role Harper’s playing is the Beauty. Her disability is visible, and is something which sometimes causes Harper frustration or sadness. But it doesn’t stop her from being Beauty. To me, this felt like an example of positive, realistic representation, and I would love to read more of this type of rep, particularly in action-heavy stories such as this.
I liked that Kemmerer doesn’t shy away from the true horror of the Prince’s curse and the dreadful things he’s done. It makes him feel truly monstrous, rather than a Disney type of beast, all growls and no trousers. I also liked, without giving away anything, one of the things we learn about the type of beast he becomes, as it certainly made it feel more realistic that he hadn’t been stopped yet.
I also enjoyed the castle as a metaphor for the Prince’s depression. It’s beautiful, filled with food and music, but it’s the same every day and he’s long since tired of it. And everywhere he turns, he’s reminded of the damage he’s wrought. So even as Harper is overwhelmed by the abundance it offers, Rhen has stopped seeing that as anything other than the curse.
There were two major aspects that limited my enjoyment of the book. The first was the way that Rhen’s beastly nature is hidden from Harper for much of the book, and when the truth does out, it’s a strangely subdued moment. I really struggle with stories where relationships are built on major lies, and it means I found it hard to really believe in the potential pairings within the book, as there was no truth to their foundation. Added to which is the fact that Harper was literally kidnapped and brought to their world, so there’s a huge power imbalance, and I just couldn’t support the romantic storylines at all.
The other aspect I struggled with was how ‘not like other girls’ Harper is. In terms of how she feels about herself in her life in DC, I can understand that. She has a disability and her family life is difficult and she feels apart from her peers. But when she arrives in Emberfall, Rhen and Gray are spouting the same things, only it’s because Harper’s so different to all the girls they kidnapped before. I found that really frustrating, and it colored how I felt about the romantic relationships that developed.
Overall, A Curse So Dark and Lonely didn’t really do it for me. I liked Harper and found her personal journey very satisfying, but I struggled with the ‘not like other girls’ aspect of the story. I also didn’t enjoy how the huge secret that Rhen and Gray were keeping from Harper was dealt with. However, I think it’s great to see a character with a visible disability at the centre of really action-filled story, and I liked the interplay between Emberfell and the modern world. I can understand why this book has been so popular, and I think it’s just a case of it not being the right book for me.
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