Ayoo, I’m back on my fantasy novel kick! A Curse So Dark and Lonely caught my attention because 1) Bloomsbury is doing a great job promoting the third book coming out, and 2) sometimes a Beauty and the Beast retelling is just too enticing to pass up.
The story follows our two main characters, Harper and Rhen (plus Grey, who I’m considering THE main character in my mind… hear me out). Harper faces many hardships on the streets of Washington D.C. Not only does she have cerebral palsy, but her mother is dying from cancer, and her father walked out on her family and left her older brother to deal with his debt collectors. Her brother, Jake, has been forced to do some rough things to pay off the collectors, and Harper is his lookout, which is how she finds herself accidentally kidnapped to a different realm. Rhen is the crown prince of Emberfall, but he has been cursed by a magesmith: if he can’t find true love during a courting season, he turns into a vicious creature and the season repeats itself. As the creature, he’s killed the majority of everyone in the castle (including his family), and terrorized the people of his kingdom. The commander of his guard is the only person left, and only Grey has been granted the ability to cross over into the modern realm in order to find a girl to break Rhen’s curse. At the start of Rhen’s last season, Grey accidentally takes Harper back to Emberfall.
I felt like this was a good, solid YA fantasy read. The plot was very stereotypical: prince is a cursed, arrogant beast, prince must woo a girl to break curse, girl doesn’t want to fall for prince, girl ultimately falls for prince to save him from the curse. I also felt like the story breezed over certain plot points, and felt rushed at times when a little more detail could have gone a long way. However, there was an element to this story that kept me from DNFing… Commander Grey. To be completely honest, he was hands down my favorite character, and I wish we got to read more of his perspective other than two chapters at the end. I couldn’t tell if Harper was going to end up with him or Rhen, and naturally I preferred Grey. He kept the story going for me, and I read each chapter in hopes that he’d pop up. Grey fascinated me because he took his oath to the crown so seriously, and he never put that oath in jeopardy, but you could tell there was more to his story. Looking back, I think the fact that we didn’t get his POV may have encouraged my obsession with him… and maybe that was the point, because we find out Grey is much more important to the story at the very end. Hmmmmmmm.
Let’s talk Harper and Rhen. Harper was actually a fantastic heroine, despite her very snarky, pessimistic internal monologue. Not to be contrary, but I don’t connect with pessimistic heroines (example: Katniss. Sorry not sorry, and I will die on that hill). However, I had to put myself in Harper’s shoes: her family was broke, her mother was dying, and her brother had to resort to crime to keep them afloat. That’s a lot of shit to deal with, and I get why she was so negative at the start of the novel. She grew on me as the book went on, and I appreciated the way Brigid Kemmerer portrayed her cerebral palsy. While Brigid does have a note saying this is just a character’s portrayal of this disease and it isn’t a standard representation, I liked how she made sure it never affected Harper’s fearlessness. Someone without cerebral palsy might say the disease is a hindrance, myself included; Harper would never, and I appreciated that.
Rhen was meh, and he honestly didn’t do much for me as a character. He also had very pessimistic thoughts, so it was somewhat funny to watch him reconcile with his hopelessness and start to work towards a solution to save his kingdom. My wishes for Grey’s POV had me wondering what was the point of the front row seat to Rhen’s thoughts. I honestly felt more of a spark between Grey and Harper, or even Grey and Rhen, than I felt between Harper and Rhen. I was disappointed when Grey disappeared at the very end and Harper couldn’t build upon her feelings for him. However, I was pleased that she didn’t immediately choose Rhen either. Homegirl saved a whole ass kingdom by herself, built up support from the people, and didn’t go swooning over Rhen at the end. Queen shit.
Because she didn’t immediately fall in love with Rhen (in fact, her love didn’t even break the curse… Grey killed the magesmith), I will continue on with the series, and I’ll definitely be holding out for Grey. Personally, I find the love triangle trope to be frustrating, but I have a hunch that the stakes will be much higher going forward. It’s been a hot minute since I’ve read a series to continue on with, so stay tuned!