Monday 18 February 2019

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Review: A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer (#Ad)

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

I received this eProof for free from Bloomsbury YA via NetGalley for the purposes of providing an honest review.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Published: 29th January 2019 | Publisher: Bloomsbury YA  | Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Brigid Kemmerer's Website

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.
From Goodreads

Trigger Warnings: This book features death due to cancer, loan sharks, threats of violence from loan sharks, kidnap, violent death, magical torture, violence, discussion of attempted suicide, threat of child murder and sexual abuse of a child, and a scene of blood, gore and viscera.

I am a huge fan of Brigid Kemmerer, and, as you know, a huge fan of retellings, so when I heard Kemmerer was writing a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, I was immediately sold. But I didn't expect A Curse So Dark and Lonely to be as incredible as it was.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely has all the things you would expect from a Beauty and the Beast retelling: a girl held against her will, an enchanted castle, a prince who becomes a monstrous creature, a curse that can only be broken by a girl falling in love with the prince, a way for the girl to magically see her family, the girl returning to her family. But it also has so much more. What most retellings seem to forget is that the beast is a prince, and that princes have kingdoms. In A Curse so Dark and Lonely, we see that kingdom, the kingdom of Emberfall.

We have Prince Rhen, who has been cursed by an enchantress to relive the autumn of his 18th year over and over - and at some point during each season, he turns into a beast and loses all sense of self. He becomes a monster who wants nothing more to kill and destroy. His family are dead. The people who worked in the castle are dead, except for Grey, his Commander. When Rhen first realised what he becomes and the devastation he caused, he shut himself away in his castle, keeping away from his people, not wanting to hurt them. He shut the borders for more protection; with no-one to run the kingdom, there's no telling who might come in or out. He has been through hundreds of seasons, trying to charm women to fall in love with him, only for him to fail, or for him to kill them when he becomes the monster.

Harper is a girl from Washington, DC. Her mother is dying from cancer, father abandoned her family with his debt to violent loan sharks, and her older brother Jake is now working for the loan sharks in order to pay off some of the debt. Life is miserable for her family, living constantly in fear of having their debt called in, and of their mother dying. One night, Harper is keeping watch while Jake is terrorising a family for their debt, when she sees a man trying to lead away a woman who is so drunk she can barely stand. Harper can't just stand there and let this woman be hurt, despite the fact she has cerebral palsy, resulting in a limp that would be a disadvantage in such a situation. Nevertheless, she attacks this man to save the woman, and in doing so, is herself transported with Grey to Emberfall.

The fact that Harper is transported from our world into this high fantasy world is so interesting! She has no idea who Rhen and Grey are, no idea where she is, and she'll be damned if she's going to just sit about waiting for a rescue that isn't going to come. Yes, she's disabled, but that's not going to stop her from climbing out a window, climbing/falling down a trellis, stealing a horse - knowing to ride from physio after the multiple operations on her leg - and trying to get the hell out of here. And it's in trying to escape that she comes across a family whose house is being burned to the ground by soldiers who are intent on hurting them. Again, Harper can't just walk away and tries to help, with the weapons she stole when she stole the horse. Unfortunately, she doesn't know what she is doing, and is almost killed until Rhen and Grey find her and save them all. Now Rhen discovers what's happening in his Kingdom.

The people are poor and starving. With the borders closed, there is no trade. Rhen's people are suffering and they're dying - and now soldiers, claiming to be on orders from the King, are destroying people's homes and stealing the land. Karis Luran, Queen of Syhl Shallow is invading. Emberfall is on the brink of war, with no army to defend its people. This is when the fairy tale retelling becomes more like a high fantasy - quite possibly my favourite genre, and so pleased me no end - and we see Prince Rhen act like a prince and try to figure out, with his commander, how to save the kingdom. Inspired by Harper, who, when more soldiers appear at the inn where Rhen has taken the family who were attacked, on a whim, pretended to be a princess of another kingdom - DC, called Disi by everyone else - whose father is negotiating an alliance with Emberfall, and will help boost Emberfall's ranks with his own army. They take the lie Harper told, and run with it. But now Harper must always be Princess Harper of Disi in public in order to help, while also desperately wanting to get home to her mother and brother.

I absolutely loved Harper. She's no damsel in distress sitting around waiting to be rescued. She's tries to save herself, and more than once she tries to rescue others. She's resourceful, and thinks quick on her feet, and she's so kind and compassionate, brave and courageous. She's also pretty so assertive and will stand up to this prince who has kidnapped her, who sometimes treats her, she believes, like she's a stupid little girl who knows nothing. She is just awesome.

I don't have cerebral palsy, nor am I otherwise physically disabled, so I really recommend you read other reviews from people who are to hear about their thoughts on the representation, but there are few thoughts I'd have that I'd like to share. I think it's also really important to note just how awesome it is that "Beauty" in this retelling is a girl with a disability. I've heard from disabled people in the book community that they are almost invisible to non-disabled people; not seen at all, really. But in A Curse So Dark and Lonely, Harper is "Beauty". She is seen, and she's important - in more ways than just as a girl - one of many over the hundreds of seasons - who could possibly fall in love with Rhen and break the curse. The people of Emberfall are in awe of her, and inspired by her, not in a disabled inspiration porn way, but because of who she is. As far as they're concerned, they have been abandoned by the King, but now here is a girl - who they later believe is a princess - who is putting her own life in danger in order to save them, who stands up for them, who brings them food from the castle because they are starving. She's not a princess, that's a lie, but Harper already has an effect on them before there's any hint that she's a princess. It's her kindness and her bravery that inspire the people, and the fact that she will fight for them. It makes them want to fight right along with her. Harper isn't a "chosen one" character. She's just a girl who is frightened and unsure, but can't turn away from suffering, and agrees to continue the princess charade in order to help these people. She is not kind and brave despite her disability or because of it, but in addition to it, as Kemmerer says herself in her author's note. Her disability effects her in regards to her movement, but it's not who she is, and it's who she is that makes her so important. And Harper is just awesome, and I loved her.

Rhen was pretty awesome, too. He has suffered so much; he has to deal with the knowledge that he has killed his family, that he is a danger to his people. That the only way to break the curse is for a woman to fall in love with him. He has tried to break it by bringing about his own death multiple times, but he just wakes up again on the day of his 18th birthday. He is constantly tormented by Lilith, the enchantress who cursed him, a vicious and sadistic woman who delights in Rhen's physical - as she will cause him great pain, magically, just from a touch - and mental suffering. He no longer knows what to do. He has tried and tried, and he has failed, time and again. Why will Harper be any different. But she is different; she's not so easily charmed as the previous girls, and she stands up to him, and she's smart and kind and brave - not to mention beautiful. Emberfall and it's people are nothing to her - and she's made it quite clear that she wants to leave - and yet time and time again she does so much to help his people, at risk to herself, and he can't help be but admire and appreciate her for that. Rhen is tortured, and he's trying his best, but really, he doesn't see how it will make any difference in the long run. An army is coming, and he has no army to meet them. You can't help but feel sorry for Rhen.

Grey! Oh, how I loved Grey! We don't get the story from his perspective as we do with Harper and Rhen, but we see various sides of him through his relationships with them both. He is fiercely loyal, and will do whatever Rhen commands, but he will make it known through his silences when he thinks Rhen's being an idiot, and when Rhen gives him to say what he thinks, he will tell him so. He's kind and understanding with Harper, but he'll also chastise her when she puts herself in unnecessary danger. Because she isn't a princess, she can't see the consequences of her actions beyond right now and what they'll mean for the kingdom at large. But he is an important adviser to both Rhen and Harper, and he is just the best. He's funny and firm, but also sweet and kind, and I loved him.

The ending! Oh my god, the ending! I absolutely did not see it coming! There were a couple of moments in the space of a few pages where I thought the story was going to end completely differently, and I was practically screaming, "WHAT?! No!" with shock, but then it would twist again, and oooh, the actual ending! Mate. MATE! The sequel, A Heart So Fierce and Broken, is going to be epic! When it comes to story, plot, and politics, at least. But it's also going to be completely heartbreaking when it comes to what the ending means for individual characters. So, so heartbreaking, and oh my god, I just want to give someone the biggest hug, because... why?! Why would Kemmerer do that?! Oh my god, it's going to be as awful as it is epic. And my fears are practically confirmed by the title of book two, and I am an excited but miserable bunny. I can't bear it, but I also absolutely cannot wait! 2020 can't come fast enough!

I adored A Curse So Dark and Lonely, and it is quite possibly my favourite Beauty and the Beast retelling. If you love retellings, or if you love high fantasy, or if you love Kemmerer's previous books, you absolutely cannot miss this!

Thank you to Bloomsbury YA via NetGalley for the eProof.

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1 comment:

  1. Ahhh I'm so glad you loved this one too!! It was SO refreshing, which is something I love to be able to say about a retelling. They can get stale, right?! But this one honoured the original, while making it unique and totally captivating.😍Forever love Grey afjdkalsd. He is such a fantastic mum-friend and I just love how every time Rhen had a kinda-tantrum, Grey is just like placidly waiting for him to get over it. And Harper was a GIFT.

    I need the sequel like....yesterday omg.