In the heart of Washington, D.C., Harper is on the lookout for her older brother, Jake. Their mother is battling cancer, their father is absent, and Jake is constantly getting caught up in trouble; life hasn’t been easy.
When Harper sees a potential kidnapping unfolding on the street below, she steps in. She’s immediately transported to what she later learns is the magical kingdom of Emberfall, cursed by an evil enchantress to be tormented by a horrendous beast, who, like in the tale of Beauty and the Beast and unbeknownst to Emberfall citizens, is actually the Crown Prince, Rhen. Rhen lives the same autumn over and over again, ending with his transformation into the cruel creature that shows no mercy to the people of Emberfall. There’s one way to stop this – if a woman falls in love with him, then the curse is lifted and the kingdom saved. Harper is one of many women that have been taken to Emberfall, but she’s different. With so much at stake and the odds stacked against them, will they be able to break the curse before it’s too late?
The book is billed as a “lush, contemporary fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast” in it’s OverDrive synopsis, and while I know this will make it appeal to a lot of people who are fans of the classic tale, it wasn’t what made me want to pick up the book. I haven’t seen the film (shocking, I know), but I’m aware of the premise. I feel apathetic about the fact it’s a retelling, but after reading A Court of Thorns and Roses and this book, I don’t think I would pick up another reiteration of Beauty and the Beast – it’s not a story that particularly resonates with me, and with an ever-expanding pool of YA fiction, there’s enough YA high fantasy out there to sustain me without turning to more retellings of this story. This may seem a bit harsh, and I know that for some people the main reason why they read this book is because of the retelling factor, but the whole fall-in-love-with-your-kidnapper plot device doesn’t float my boat.
It’s worth noting that this book is told in alternating perspectives, switching between Rhen and Harper. It works and makes sense, and really humanises Rhen. If you want to check out more of my thoughts on multiple points of view in YA fiction, then click here to read my full post on the topic!
Perhaps the most praised part of this book is the representation of cerebral palsy. As a result, the protagonist, Harper, has a limp, and as the author mentions at the end of the book, she is strong and brave not in spite of her condition, but in addition to it, and stresses that CP can differ from person to person. Characters with disabilities are hard to find in YA fiction, so reading this book has driven me to do some research on disability representation in YA books, particularly own voices books.
Harper’s character is persistent, strong-minded and is not afraid to take action when she notices injustices and people in need; she helps a family whose house was cruelly burned down, and hands out food to citizens from the bottomless supply of delicacies at Ironrose Castle, where she stays. Rhen, while complex and enigmatic, didn’t stand out as a character as much as Harper did. He fits into the stereotypical male fantasy lead – mysterious, brooding and unreadable. Grey is similar, but I was more invested in his backstory and where his character could go in the next book.
I think my favourite thing in this book is the themes that are explored, such as the unwavering respect people have for those in positions of power. With the royal family absent from public life in Emberfall for so long, you would expect the people to become sceptical of the monarchy and feel animosity towards the crown, but instead, every individual that Rhen, Grey and Harper meet on their initial outings show the utmost respect and subservience to a group of people who have effectively abandoned them. Is this out of fear? Is it just for show? Even if both of these questions are true, the examination of power dynamics, and the masses’ relationship with, and views towards, the minority in control is very interesting, and there are certainly some parallels to be drawn with real-life events in the past.
This book (for YA) is fairly long, coming in at 484 pages, according to Goodreads. There are some scenes that I don’t think serve the plot, and could be switched out in favour for some more world-building, character backstory, romance, or some action scenes. I read this book quickly, but I think that’s mainly down to the writing style as opposed to the pace of the novel. That being said, like many YA fantasy books, it substantially picks up the pace and become more exciting towards the end.
Overall, this refreshment of a quintessential fairytale is an enjoyable read that explores power and choice, fronted by a protagonist who is not defined by her cerebral palsy.
Have you read A Curse So Dark and Lonely? What did you think? Let me know in the comments down below!
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