Title: A Curse so Dark and Lonely
Author: Brigid Kemmerer
Genre: Fantasy/ YA/ Fairytale Retelling/ Fantasy
Source: Goodreads Recommendation
Favourite Quote: ‘”They need me. Can’t you understand that? That they need me? Can you?”
I press my forehead against the door. Her pain reaches me through the wood, tightening my own chest and dredging memories of my family. “Yes. I can.”
“No!” Her voice is fierce, her rage pure. “You can’t!”
“I can,” I say softly.
“Because I need you.”‘
Harper hasn’t had it easy, her father ran away after he got involved with a group he owed money too, leaving the debt and danger to her family and her brother left doing the dirty work for those who threaten them. Her mother is now bedridden with cancer and Harper herself left feeling weak with her cerebral palsy in her leg, her role is to be a look out for her brother and nothing more. When she sees a girl being kidnapped by a man whilst on a job, she can’t help but get involved and throws herself at the man with her crowbar even if it does little to stop him. The next thing she knows, she’s transported to a world outside DC, a castle in summer surrounded by winter, musical instruments that play themselves, and a prince that claims to need her help. No matter how many times she tries to escape, she quickly realises that she’s stuck as the last hope for a curse that threatens to destroy the entire kingdom around her.
He stops, but his sword remains in his hand and he doesn’t take his eyes off the girl. “Do not think,” he tells her, his voice fierce, “that this means I will allow you to attack me again.”
“Don’t worry,” she snaps. “I’m sure I’ll get another chance.”
“She attacked you?” My eyebrows rise. “Grey. She is half your size.”
“She makes up for it in temperament. She most assuredly was not my first choice.”
“Where am I?” The girl’s eyes keep flicking from me to him to the sword in his hand. Her knuckles are white where they grip the bar. “What did you do?”‘
This was one of the best Beauty and the Beast retellings I’ve read and I don’t say that lightly – I’ve read a lot of them. I adored the characters, the magic, the curse, the monster – the original fairytale was all there but it was just so wonderfully unique that it was one of it’s own. Part of me doesn’t even want to call it a fairytale retelling because the story was so individually different.
The story was told from both perspectives of Harper and Prince Rhen which brought the story to life through both their eyes.
Harper was a fantastically well written main character with a believable backstory, physical flaws that she won’t allow to get the best of her, a brave instinct that often gets her in trouble although she never regrets her actions. The build up of her character is delightful, she knows her own strengths and weaknesses and pushes through both to help a strange Prince in a land that’s unfamiliar laced with a curse, a lie and a monster just so she can ensure the people around her are safe and looked after. She’s passionate, kind and doesn’t back down from a fight, whether it’s against armed soldiers, scary Grey or an argument with a cursed Prince. She hits my top favourite heroines list without a doubt.
‘He doesn’t act like a man who’s trying to fall in love. He plays this whole thing like a game, where underneath his pretty words is a man full of cunning and guile. He acts like a tethered animal that’s learned the limits of its chain – but knows how to lure prey to its death. That’s why I don’t trust him. After the showdown in the snow, I realise he doesn’t trust me, either. Somehow, despite the fact that he trapped me in Emberfall, his distrust seems to run deeper.‘
Prince Rhen was an interesting character which we get to see inside and out. It’s easy to see why he thinks the way he does seeing everything as a strategy being raised as a Prince to rule a kingdom, why his personality is completely pessimistic and why he’s suddenly so caught off guard around Harper. Even as an isolated Prince with only Grey to keep him company, he still holds his authority well around others, and expects the same from her, only to have her argue against him at every turn. It’s confusing, frustrating and frankly just refreshing for him to have someone challenge him after so long, it’s not difficult to understand why Harper brings a new sense of hope to him where there was none previously. Even when it’s clear she will not feel for him the way he needs her too in order to lift the curse.
I really liked Grey, the last remaining person to survive the monster attack that stands by Prince Rhen’s side no matter what. His loyalty shows no bounds and his sweet interactions with children and simply just the way he is around Harper is endearing for a lonely soldier who has lost everything for so long. It’s the small moments with Grey that make you like him all the more, from playing cards in front of the fire, teaching Harper how to throw knives, his need to feel productive in his role and the way you can just simply trust him brings so much meaning to his character.
‘Grey stares after him. “I had almost forgotten what this was like.”
“Having someone to order around?” I say.
“No.” Rhen looks past me at his guard commander. “Being part of something bigger.”
Grey nods. “Yes. That exactly.”‘
I loved the plot, the scheme Rhen and Harper come up with to show the neighbouring countries that their kingdom has not been abandoned by their royalty. It brings more than just a Beauty and the Beast romance to the story and is entirely captivating, I couldn’t put the book down. You really get to see the characters change around each other as the go from focusing on the curse in an empty secluded castle to a being part of something greater as a kingdom united with its people to fight in a war for power.
The additional characters that join them along the way are all individually unique and flawed in their own way they are easy to follow along and help build up the story. I loved how Freya became a strong mother figure that Harper needed and a comfort she gave herself into. I loved how their new lieutenant had a missing hand to show that flaws are not a sign of weakness and I loved that Zo was a woman who wanted to be a soldier and so became a solider because Harper showed them that any woman can be just as strong as a man, no matter what her size. Each character had meaning, a purpose and a goal to fulfil without it being too complicated or overcrowded as the people of the kingdom joined together around them.
As you can tell, I absolutely adored this book and I couldn’t recommend it enough for anyone who loves a great fairytale retelling.
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. 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.