Cover of A Curse So Dark and Lonely: A thicket of thorns in a blue background with one branch green and living.

About the Book

Title: A Curse So Dark and Lonely (Cursebreakers #1)
Published: 2019
Series: Cursebreakers
Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Cover Story: Thorny
BFF Charm: Platinum and Let Me Love You
Talky Talk: Feminist Fairy Tale
Bonus Factors: Living With A Disability, Retelling With A Twist
Relationship Status: The Final Rose Goes To…

Cover Story: Thorny

The tangle of thorns brings to mind more of a retelling of Sleeping Beauty than a loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but I do love the moody colors and how it all screams, “I am fairy tale, hear me roar.” It’s not totally original but it’s not an embarrassing brown-bag-it either.

The Deal:

Harper’s life is going downhill fast. Her father split on her dying-of-cancer mom, leaving their family with his massive gambling debt. Her protective yet gentle older brother has resorted to breaking knees for the very same debt collectors in an attempt to pay off said debt, but Harper’s worried he’ll lose sight of his humanity. Being the youngest—and having cerebral palsy—means she often gets stuck as the look-out, unable to help in any significant way. But she sees her chance to be a hero when she spies a man trying to abduct a woman in the same alleyway she’s hiding in. The upside: Harper manages to rescue the woman. The downside: she gets herself accidentally abducted instead.

Once upon a time, Prince Rhen made an error in judgment and his entire kingdom has paid a terrible, terrible price. Doomed to repeat the same season over and over until he finds a woman to fall in love with him, Rhen has lost track of the days he has repeated; the countless women his very last guard, Grey, procures to break the curse; and the amount of times he’s had to hear those damned magical instruments play a jaunty tune over the blood and mayhem in his castle. But the enchantress who started it all, Lilith, has finally given him a deadline: this will be his last season. If he does not succeed in his task, the kingdom of Emberfall will belong to her, and Prince Rhen will be stuck as the monstrous creature he turns into at the end of every cycle—forever.

When Grey returns to Emberfall in the midst of defending himself against a scrawny, spitfire scrap of a girl, Rhen knows they are doomed. But maybe, just maybe, that determination Harper exhibits is very the thing they need to break the curse…

BFF Charm: Platinum and Let Me Love You

BFF platinum charm

I kind of worry that writing down everything I liked about Harper will make her sound like a Mary Sue, because she isn’t. She’s tough because she’s had to be, but not in a jaded, hardened way. She doesn’t need anyone to save her, necessarily, but she doesn’t think she has to do everything all on her own (thank God). She’s tenacious about finding a way home, but not so single-minded that she can’t see reason. She’s a little sassy but also kind-hearted. She has cerebral palsy, but it doesn’t define her; it’s just something she has to live with and sometimes make accommodations for. I’ve often enjoyed that Kemmerer’s characters feel like real, multi-dimensional people, and Harper is no exception.

BFF charm with teary eyes hugging a heart

Prince Rhen is, by the time we meet him, worn the fuck out. The guy has seen his family killed, his subjects traumatized and starved, and he knows he’s slowly killing his kingdom. Plus, even though he could feel less like flirting, he still has to attempt to charm the pants off strange woman after strange woman. I liked that Kemmerer put a bit of a spin on the reason he was cursed; he had a lapse in judgment, but he wasn’t a completely cruel and selfish individual to start. He is rich and privileged and also just turned eighteen—so he needs to be a better leader, but, hey, most people aren’t perfect at the art of leadership in their late teens. Meeting Harper and getting a new perspective on his situation causes him to grow and stretch himself, and I think there would come a time when we could be good friends. Maybe he’d even let me ride his awesome horse!

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

While not exactly enemies, Rhen and Harper don’t hit it off right away. He’s her kidnapper and she’s not exactly swooning over him, making her a useless ally in breaking his curse. They get to know each other the old-fashioned way, by talking, and begin to appreciate more about one another as they learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses (a phrase that I’m sure is tickling your loins as we speak). One of the most fundamental keys to creating a strong relationship is trust, and it plays an important role as Harper and Rhen slowly let each other in…but they also keep some potentially damaging secrets to themselves.

Then there’s Grey, Rhen’s personal guard, who was on the receiving end of Harper’s way with a pipe and generally distrusts her around his charge. He’s the still-waters-run-deep kinda guy, who, of course, is great with children and can handle himself in a fight. I thought I was seeing some vibes between him and Harper, but rest assured this isn’t exactly a love triangle. Kemmerer is good at making well-rounded friends for her main characters…probably because she’s already setting them up for their own books in her head (as I assume the companion book to A Curse So Dark and Lonely will be about Grey).

Talky Talk: Feminist Fairy Tale

While I am always all about a Beauty and the Beast retelling, I loved that this book started off with the familiar but just kept going with it. Like, what would’ve happened if Belle had asked the Beast what transpired for the rest of his subjects that weren’t servants in the castle and inquired about how they were getting on? And then pushed him to do something about it? I never really thought about it. (Was Belle one of the Beast’s subjects? Her village seemed to be doing just fine. Were they enchanted to simply forget there ever was a royal family? Did no one outside of their corner of France realize the area had zero oversight and that it was always winter?)

Kemmerer explains the enchantment around the castle only affects the people in it (and there are no people left since this is not a sanitized fairy tale. There are real stakes with blood-spattered rooms and definitely a lot of death) but regular time has kept marching on for the other residents of Emberfall. Without guidance and closed ports/borders, the entire country is slowly starving. To top it all off, they now have to defend themselves against a potential invasion. The story quickly takes on a lot more gravitas than simply focusing on two people learning how to fall in love. While I am always all about a good romance, I am always here for good world-building, political intrigue, and real-life problems.

Bonus Factor: Living With A Disability

Close up of a hand on a wheelchair wheel.

I’ll be honest: I was expecting Harper’s CP to be discussed more in-depth, but at the same time it was okay that it wasn’t. It was just one part of Harper, and definitely not the most interesting thing about her. It’s a disorder that can range in severity, and while I don’t know exactly where Harper is on that spectrum, I do know it can be a lot more debilitating for many. There was a fist-pump-y moment when Lilith the enchantress offers to “fix” Harper’s leg and Harper doesn’t have to think before she says flatly, “My body is not broken.”

Bonus Factor: Retellings With A Twist

Maria and Tony from West Side Story singing on a balcony.

I already touched upon the biggest part of this in the Talky Talk, but I am happy for stories that manage to create a fresh new take on a much-loved theme.

Relationship Status: The Final Rose Goes To…

Wait—what? There’s no enchanted rose in this version? Oh. Sorry, Book, if I had a final (magic) rose a la The Bachelorette, you would totes be getting it. You stood out in a crowd of fantasies, and while the home date was a little, uh, rough (maybe invite me over when you aren’t on the verge of war with your border countries?), I still saw your humor, your strength, and your hot Prince. Let’s make this last past the honeymoon. (And if you think he’s up for it, your sequel can totally star in next season.)

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Bloomsbury YA. This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. A Curse So Dark and Lonely is available now.

Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.