REVIEW: 'A Curse So Dark And Lonely' by Brigid Kemmerer Was Pretty Good But Also Kind Of Problematic
Hello Fellow Readerholics,
It’s the school holidays so I have been taking the opportunity to do as much reading (and subsequent reviewing) as possible. I finished ‘A Curse So Dark And Lonely’ about a week ago but I had to take a second to decide my feelings on this book and they are still very mixed but we’re just going to run with it. I’m also hoping to FINALLY get my review out on ‘Everywhere, Everything, Everyone’ this week so feel free to keep an eye out for that.
A LOT OF THIS REVIEW IS JUST ME COMING UP WITH SOLUTIONS TO PROBLEMS SO TECHNICALLY THERE ARE SPOILERS BUT THEY DON’T CONTRIBUTE TO THE PLOT
Fall in love, break the curse.
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.
I have no idea what to say about this book. There were some things that were done so well and I ended up really loving and there were other things that had me seriously side-eyeing these characters and here is why.
I think I’ll talk about what I liked most first as the things that I did like were actually done really well and positivity is a good thing! I really loved the disability representation in this book. The main character, Harper, had cerebral palsy and she was still strong and independent. I’ve also read a few reviews on this book and people who’ve read this and also have cerebral palsy said that this was good and accurate representation for them which is really important. I was a little concerned about how her disability would be approached seeing as I have never seen a disabled main character in fantasy but I think that it was done tastefully and well. I also thought it was interesting how Harper was already underprivileged as her family is extremely poor, her brother has to do some shady stuff to keep them alive and her mother is terminally ill with cancer. which is probably an explanation for why Harper is so headstrong and why I admire her so much.
I also really loved how this was a fast-paced, FUN read! There were a lot of parts that I genuinely did enjoy for the plot. The beginning was a little slow for my liking but towards the end and any significant moments in the book were seriously entertaining. I also really liked the side characters like Grey and Zo. I wish I got to see more of them in the book.
Now comes the parts that I really don’t want to write because in a perfect world, this book would be just a nice, unproblematic book but here we are…
There were a lot of things that bothered me about this book and first I am going to talk about the lack of consent present in the book. I haven’t mentioned it before but this is a Beauty and The Beast retelling and the Disney remake, which many of you are probably familiar with, Belle chooses to stay in the beast’s castle in place of her father, Which is still gross and manipulative but at least she had a choice. In ‘A Curse So Dark And Lonely’ did Harper choose to go to the castle, I hear you ask? Um, well you see… she was actually VIOLENTLY KIDNAPPED and then essentially held against her will in a strange land all the while her beloved mother is literally DYING OF CANCER. And it is revealed that to break Rhen’s curse, Harper is expected to fall in love with him. I am absolutely baffled as to how this would happen in real life unless it was Stockholm syndrome which is a terribly sad and tragic thing.
Another thing that absolutely disgusted me was this quote: ‘Grey has grown skilled at finding girls who have no family, no one to miss them.’ I pause and look at her. ‘Often there is no trickery to it — they come willingly, with little more than the promise of a safe place to sleep. You, I suspect, would not have been lured so easily.’ Let’s unpack that, shall we? They are taking advantage of vulnerable women and luring them into the castle with a promise of shelter even though those women would likely die and not be granted the opportunity to return home if they asked. Harper couldn’t be lured so they KIDNAPPED HER. I am so sick of creepy behaviour like this being ROMANTICISED in ya, surely Brigid Kemmerer had to notice how serial killer-y that sounded?!
Another thing that kind of irked me was the fact that before Harper they had only taken conventionally attractive girls. Before I say anything else, Harper wasn’t unattractive by any means, she was just described as more plain in comparison to the others. This bothered me for a few reasons. The first being that, after however many seasons the curse has been going for, you’d think that Rhen wouldn’t have preference and would look for girls that he could have a real connection with as opposed to, I don’t know, just looking at them? Another problem with this is the way these more attractive women were described and how the book insinuated that they were far more desirable to men. This could be pretty damaging to young women if they feel that they don’t match those so called ‘desirable’ beauty standards.
This book was also filled with some stereotypical tropes and while most weren’t too bad there was one that just… really ground my gears and that was the ‘I’m not like other girls’ trope. This wasn’t just the people around Harper calling her unique or whatever, Harper herself was reinforcing these stereotypes which sucked because she was really cool until she started belittling women for liking traditionally ‘feminine’ things. I don’t understand why girls in these books can’t be sword wielding baddies and also like fashion?? The stereotype just separates people for literally no reason and it honestly reminds me of the thing people do where they’ll hate on things just for being something that teenage girls are interested in and then other teenage girls will talk about how they hate the thing just to appear quirky? This is a problem I’ve seen with a lot of females in YA fantasy. I feel like authors struggle to make characters multidimensional so they’re either destined to be a total bada** or a ‘girly girl’ and there is NO middle ground.
I am so angry at this book. Because iff it weren’t for these issues it would have been wonderful, it was actually really enjoyable when I was able to take myself out of how problematic it was but I also can’t just ignore that. Do you see my dilemma?
This book was fun, diverse and in my eyes, a little controversial. I would love to be able to rate this book a 3.5/5 but I feel like that would be ignoring all the bad things about it so my final verdict is 2/5. I know a lot of people loved this book so tell me what you thought of it in the comments (if you’ve read it). I haven’t got my hands on ‘A Heart So Fierce And Broken’ yet but I will definitely be reading at some of it is in the perspective of Grey, a character that I genuinely did like.
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