I absolutely love retellings of “Beauty and the Beast,” especially ones that keep the same general feel of the original story but deviate from the plot a bit to make it more unique. Brigid Kemmerer did just that when writing “A Curse So Dark and Lonely,” which is the first novel in a series called “Cursebreakers.” Though the basic idea of “Beauty and the Beast” is present in this novel, there is enough of a difference to keep it fresh and interesting.
Harper is a young woman living in modern day Washington D.C. with her brother and dying mother. Her father left her family with massive debts and loan sharks nipping at their heels. To produce enough money to both live off of and attempt to pay off her father’s broken promises, Harper’s brother, Jake, as turned to a life of crime. She aids him however she can, but she is constantly treated like glass because of her Cerebral Palsy.
One day, while she is playing the role of lookout, she witnesses a man attempt to kidnap a woman. Harper springs into action without thinking beyond saving the woman, and is almost instantly transported to the realm of Emberfall. This is a Kingdom that runs parallel to the Earth she knows. It is full of magic, war, and a handsome (but arrogant) prince named Rhen.
Rhen turned away the wrong woman over three hundred seasons ago, and is now cursed to relive the same three months in Autumn. At the end of the season, he transforms against his will into a terrible monster that takes a different form every time. His only companion is Grey, his personal guard. The only way to break the curse and save Emberfall from an oncoming war is for someone to fall in love with Rhen.
Harper is the last person that Rhen had ever thought he would fall for. She is brash and violent, like an animal trapped in a cage. She is smart and not traditionally beautiful. Many think her broken for her Cerebral Palsy. While the other women he courted were wooed by his status as the crown prince and by his wealth, she sees a different side of Rhen. And, slowly, the two begin to trust each other–at least enough to decide on how to save Emberfall, should the curse remain.
I absolutely enjoyed this novel. The characters were very well written. The chapters switch back and forth between points of view; sometimes, Harper tells the story. Sometimes, it’s Rhen. This continues, a back and forth, through out the story, though the last few chapters deviate from the pattern a bit. Because of this, Rhen and Harper’s characters are extremely fleshed out. We, as the reader, get to see their inner thoughts and emotions during the tale. Grey is also present, though his character is explored in a slower manner.
At first, I was not happy with Rhen. He was arrogant and mostly an ass. It wasn’t until the middle and later chapters that the author allows him to bring his guard down. The closer to the end, he seems more human. Harper’s character was solid through out the novel.
Overall, a solid read with few issues. I would recommend “A Curse So Dark and Lonely” to anyone interested in fantasy novels and fairy tale retellings. A word of warning, however; it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. I am desperately waiting for my next paycheck so I can afford the sequel.