Monday, January 14, 2019

ARC Review: A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Title: A Curse So Dark and Lonely
Author: Brigid Kemmerer
Publication Date: January 29, 2019
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's
Pages: 496
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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 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.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a Beauty and the Beast retelling in a bookish world crammed full of Beauty and the Beast retellings. I was a little hesitant, despite my love of both this fairytale as my favorite and retellings as a genre, but I decided to give it a try when I saw a few people talk about its unique take.

Our Belle in this retelling is Harper, a girl from DC whose family doesn't have it easy - from loan sharks, to her mom's terminal cancer, to Harper's cerebral palsy, she has faced a lot and has been made stronger because of it. When she's kidnapped from the streets of DC and whisked away into an enchanted castle in a fantasy world called Emberfall, ruled by a cursed prince, Harper finds herself questioning where her loyalties lie.

I loved Harper! For me as a reader, there is a fine line between a character being strong and being annoying. I'm glad to say that Harper was on the side of the line that I love to root for! She was tough and inspiring and, although I sometimes found myself frustrated with her hesitation, it was understandable and I never found myself disliking her. I liked that this book showed Harper's cerebral palsy as a part of her and not her defining trait.

Rhen is the cursed prince, and the curse is a bit different in this story than in others you've read. This curse turns Rhen into a beast once per season, while he remains his normal princely self the rest of the time. I wasn't quite sure about him at the beginning, but he grew on me throughout the book and I found myself loving him halfway through. It's always interesting to see how authors try to justify their Beast character kidnapping women to make them break the curse. In some, like Hunted by Meagan Spooner, it just comes off as creepy and not at all romantic. In A Curse So Dark and Lonely, though, Rhen and his curse is written in a way that makes his actions, while not completely morally white, at least understandable and his choices are presented as the lesser evil, the best thing he can do for his people. I loved him and I loved the slow burn romance.

Of course, I have to mention Grey, the Captain of the Royal Guard, and an absolutely fantastic character. He is loyal to a fault and is a wonderfully complex character who I couldn't get enough of. I loved his dynamic with Harper and the little glimpses we got to see of him outside of his strict military persona. I also enjoyed the other female characters, Freya and Zo, and their very different friendships with Harper.

As I've said, this is a very unique take on Beauty and the Beast. It was interesting to see Harper struggle with knowing her family needed her back home, while the people of Emberfall needed her there. I thought that Emberfall was well written and I enjoyed that we got a glimpse into the wider world outside of the castle grounds. While it wasn't always fast-paced, I was never bored and enjoyed the times the characters spent getting to know each other. There were a couple things I did have mixed feelings about, however.

The villain Lilith (honestly, Lilith?) was a bit too cartoon-level evil for my taste. While she was amazingly brutal and I did appreciate how vicious she was, I never felt like there was a good explanation for why she cursed Rhen in the first place. I would have liked to have had a better understanding of who she was and why she hated Rhen so much. My other issue is with the ending. I loved the romance and how it progressed to that point, but the ending really didn't sit well with me. Grey also had an epilogue that I could have done without, which left the series open ended. This book has all the makings of a fantastic standalone, but I have the feeling it's going to get dragged out into a series.

I loved the characters in this book and I loved their journey together! My heart was broken so many times for them both and I love when a story can make me feel emotions like this one did. A Curse So Dark and Lonely did so many things right that I hate to even discuss what it did wrong, but alas. This isn't a perfect book, with its over the top villain and not-quite-satisfying ending, but I still loved it and would definitely recommend it to other fantasy lovers!