Published by Bloomsbury YA on January 29, 2019
Pages: 484 •Format: ARC •Source: ALA
Fall in love, break the curse.
Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year, Prince Rhen, the heir of Emberfall, thought he could be saved easily if a girl fell for him. But that was before he turned into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. Before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.
Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, Harper learned to be tough enough to survive. When she tries to save a stranger on the streets of Washington, DC, she's pulled into a magical world.
Break the curse, save the kingdom.
Harper doesn't know where she is or what to believe. A prince? A curse? A monster? 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.
I love a good Beauty and the Beast retelling. In fact, most of my all time favorite fantasy novels are Beauty and the Beast retellings (ACOTAR, Cruel Beauty, etc), so I had pretty high hopes going into A Curse So Dark and Lonely. Coupled with the fact that it merges a fantasy world with the modern world, I knew I was going to enjoy my first reading experience with Brigid Kemmerer’s work.
As with any Beauty and the Beast retelling, the story follows an intelligent and young protagonist, Harper, who is taken against her will from her home of Washington D.C. to a fantasy world called Emberfall where Prince Rhen is cursed to repeat the same season over and over again until he can find someone to fall in love with him. As each season ends unsuccessfully, he turns into a dangerous beast that ultimately ends up terrorizing and killing more and more of the subjects of Emberfall (and sometimes the girls who are brought for him to court as well). Though this is fairly in line with the traditional Beauty and the Beast story many of us know, there are a few new twists. Harper is from a different world (our modern era) and she also has Cerebral Palsy. I admittedly don’t know too much about her condition, but I felt the author did a good job integrating it into the story and having the characters talk openly about it and help show Harper that it did not need to be viewed as a weakness. The “Beast” character, Prince Rhen, has a darker burden in this retelling as he is uncontrollably violent in his Beast form, and is tormented by a seductive enchantress (Lilith) who put the curse upon him after she felt scored by him. There’s also a third major character at play, Grey, Rhen’s only remaining guard and a fiercely loyal character with a few secrets of his own.
There were a lot of things about this story that I enjoyed. I liked seeing Harper balance belonging to two worlds, and I absolutely loved her posing as the “Princess of Disi” in Emberfall. I loved some of the secondary, non-POV characters such as Grey and Noah, and I enjoyed the dynamic of the characters from both of Harper’s worlds ultimately colliding and having to learn to co-exist with each other’s realities. It made the fantasy feel lighter and less daunting in a way for a not-so-frequent fantasy reader such as myself since it the story has ties to the modern world.
However, probably because I have read so many Beauty and the Beast retellings that have become all time favorites, I did find some things about this story that ultimately underwhelmed me. First and foremost, there was really zero explanation of the magic system- how does this portal between the two worlds work? How are they connected? I have so many questions. Secondly, the “villain” felt pretty flimsy to me, and I didn’t really sense much motivation for why she did the things she did (and she was also too powerful and her name is Lilith which is really on the nose if you ask me. Can we please stop naming our female villains Lilith?) I also never really felt a strong connection between Harper and Rhen, and was much more shipping her and Grey, and because of this the story really started dragging about halfway through for me.
However, the ending was quite engaging! I loved the collision of Harper’s two worlds, the battles, how Harper is badass enough to go into battle herself, and I honestly did not see the twists coming! I liked how the story didn’t “end” when the worst possible thing happened, but rather it kept going and pushing through those horrible outcomes and pushed the characters to continue to maneuver around them keep fighting. I also adore Noah and want him and Jake to continue to live in Emberfall and be adorable and bring the miracle of modern medical knowledge to the fantasy realm.
Overall: While A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a solid YA fantasy read, it pales a bit in comparison to some truly epic and swoon-worthy Beauty and the Beast retellings that are already out there. However, it’s strong ending with surprising plot twists has ensured that I will be continuing on with the sequel!