A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer is a young adult fantasy retelling of “Beauty and the Beast,” set in a world where a young sorceress has laid a curse upon the Crown Prince and his kingdom. This is Kemmerer’s first YA fantasy book, her other works being in the romance and paranormal genres.
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.
This was such a page-turner of a book for me! I was sucked into the world really quickly and continued to feel immersed page after page. I enjoyed the fantasy aspect of it immensely. The world of Emberfall seems like your typical medieval world, but with magic and beasts, but it really feels so new and unique.
The three main characters, Harper, Rhen, and Grey are fantastic. They all felt like believable characters and were fully fleshed out and dynamic. I liked that Harper’s cerebral palsy didn’t define her, nor did she let others define her by it, either. The book, while acknowledging her disability, did not use it as a central focus, which often happens when disabilities are represented in YA lit (in my opinion). She’s also really feisty, strong-willed, and generous, choosing to help the people of Emberfall, even though she longs to find her way home. Rhen is an equally well-written character and I enjoyed his fierce need to save his people and atone for his mistakes. Grey is stoic, loyal, and the most awesome got-your-back character ever. I love him to pieces! All in all, each character really had their own voice and felt unique to the others, which is awesome.
I also liked that this book didn’t feel like a direct retelling. There are elements throughout that remind the reader of the general plot of “Beauty and the Beast” but Kemmerer has created a story all her own and characters that are well outside the traditional molds of Belle, the “Beast,” etc. I particularly like that the romance aspect of this book isn’t forced and feels really natural. Not only do both characters know that either of them falling for each other because it will break a spell is hardly likely, and so they continue to move about each other feeling respectfully empathetic, yet also slowly growing to accept and appreciate each other. It’s just a nice change from the regular YA romance fare.
The magic in this book is also really interesting. It’s probably one of the weaker aspects of the book, since it’s not really explained much and it just seems to be. The curse has specific guidelines, but outside of that, the sorceress Lilith seems to operate in any way she wants to, so I don’t really know how her magic works or how she can do things (i.e. there don’t appear to be verbal spells or wand waving).
Literary Value: 5/5
I think the plot for this book is so well crafted. It’s long, but so many things happen throughout the course of it. I couldn’t see the trajectory until a certain point, but everything is really well calculated and all of the characters made decisions that made sense for them to make.
Kemmerer’s character development is on point!!! Each character, even the side-characters, are amazingly well thought out, detailed, and feel like real people. I really loved a lot of the side-characters, which is rare, for me, because a lot of books leave side-characters underdeveloped or they often feel more like props rather than people. Not so in this book. Each character has something to bring to the table, and I felt protective of all of them as the story progressed.
The dialogue is one of the strongest aspects of this book. I think Kemmerer is really skilled a creating realistic characters, and every conversation feels genuine because of this. The writing throughout is just really strong in general, and one of the reasons that I enjoyed the book so much. There was never a dull moment for me and all the action sequences felt really well planned and the fighting methods well researched.
Entertainment Factor: 5/5
As I’ve said earlier in this review, this book was a page-turner for me. I was constantly engrossed in the events of the book, in the character development, in the world of Emberfall. There is action, there is political plotting, and even the threat of war. This is far from your average “Beauty and the Beast” retelling, with so much more at stake. Emberfall’s fate is held in the balance between Prince Rhen breaking the curse or failing to do so. I love the high-stakes and how it drove the plot forward. It was a really roller-coaster of a ride.
I also simply enjoyed reading this book. It feels so genuine and as a fantasy book, the world building feels really effortless and not all clunky. There’s some humor, some romance, but mostly this is an action-filled read, and I don’t mind it at all! The fantasy elements are really strong and I had a good time reading this book.
Cover Art: 4/5
I think this cover is really pretty. I really like the deep blues and the glistening, blade-like font of the title. It definitely brings the feel of danger that’s felt throughout the book. It also mirrors the use of knives in the story, and I greatly appreciate when covers reflect direct objects/meanings from the book. The only reason why I didn’t give this cover full marks is because I’m not entirely sure why the cover depicts thorny vines everywhere. I don’t remember any thorny vines in the book at all and what thorny vines really make me think of is “Sleeping Beauty” and not “Beauty and the Beast,” so I’m a bit confused why they’re there. It’s the only thing that doesn’t quite make sense about this cover. Other than depicting a sense of danger, I don’t see their point (no pun intended!).
Overall Rating: 4.75/5 Knives 🗡️🗡️🗡️🗡️
This was a truly awesome book. I couldn’t put it down! I love all the characters, how well thought out the story is, and how it defies many YA stereotypes, especially in the romance department. Everything felt really genuine and I really appreciate Kemmerer’s decision to depict a main character with cerebral palsy and not make it define her.
This book has everything I want in a fantasy novel: action, political intrigue, well developed characters, and smooth world-building. There was never a dull moment and I cannot wait for the next book in this series!
I would highly recommend this book to readers who love fantasy, especially YA fantasy, and who want action-pact story plotting. It’s definitely going to capture your attention and imagination and it’s well worth the 400+ pages.
Thoughts & Thanks
Thank you so much for reading my review! I hope I’ve helped aid you in your decision to read this book. If you have read it or if you’re thinking about reading it, let me know what you thought in the comments! And as always, happy reading!