A Curse so Dark and Lonely

Beauty and the Beast is an adorable cartoon with a questionable storyline that screams Stockholm Syndrome. Anyone who grew up with this treasured classic will know, although charming for its time, is not appropriate for a modern audience. This makes Brigid Kemmerer’s endeavour to write a modern retelling even more harrowing and leaves any potential reader questioning whether A Curse so Dark and Lonely can portray strong women, healthy relationships and admirable friendships all the while riding on the coattails of such a demining fairytale.

Harper’s brother is running out of time. Trapped in a stranger’s house, desperate to pay back the loan sharks plaguing their lives he has just ten minutes to get out before she flees. There can’t be a less appropriate time to fall into a fairytale of which the only escape is to fall for a degected Prince who’s played this game so many times he no longer believes he is capable of love. But if she can’t save her Prince, and she can’t save her brother, maybe she can save the Kingdom the curse forgot.

“I am always surprised to discover that when the world seems darkest, there exists the greatest opportunity for light.”

At the beginning of A Curse so Dark and Lonely Kemmerer presents her reader with a strong Belle. Rather than clutching library books, skipping through town or wishing for red roses she’s brandishing crowbars at trained guardsmen, stealing horses and scaling trellises unhindered by the effects of her cerebral porsey. Although a strong lead Harper is still flawed: judging those around her too quickly and leaping to ill thought through decisions and conclusions. Her character develops throughout the novel to finally become the mature and thoughtful queen she spends so much of the novel impersonating is pivotal and engaging. Along the way she also gains confidence in herself and her abilities to help people, an insecurity she harbours from being useless as anything other than lookout for her brother as he struggles with the loan sharks. The mature emotional development she demonstrates throughout the novel, coupled with her fiesty character and strong moral sense, makes her an excellent female protagonist.

Rhen, meanwhile, is caught mid character arc. Much like the cartoon beast some readers will remember from childhood he has lost his arrogant ways as the guilt and severity of the curse seeps in. But, unlike his Disney equivalent, he doesn’t learn table manors from his Belle. The fight and moral duty instilled by Harper throughout the novels allows Rhen to show complicated moral character development throughout the story, realising he can do more than wait to fall in love. His transformation from hopeless to spoiling for the inevitable fight makes his storyline unique, this progression adding hopeful tones to the novel as the reader too begins to admire the hope Harper is bringing to Rhen’s land.

“Failure isn’t absolute, just because you couldn’t save everyone doesn’t mean you didn’t save anyone.”

Rhen, meanwhile, is caught mid character arc. Much like the cartoon beast some readers will remember from childhood he has lost his arrogant ways as the guilt and severity of the curse seeps in. But, unlike his Disney equivalent, he doesn’t learn table manors from his Belle. The fight and moral duty instilled by Harper throughout the novels allows Rhen to show complicated moral character development throughout the story, realising he can do more than wait to fall in love. His transformation from hopeless to spoiling for the inevitable fight makes his storyline unique, this progression adding hopeful tones to the novel as the reader too begins to admire the hope Harper is bringing to Rhen’s land.

Central to the plot of the original fairytale is love. While readers enter A Curse So Dark and Lonely expecting a beastly lead cajoling the young Belle to love him while trapping her in his castle, they are in fact presented with Rhen whose all but given up on destroying the curse and Harper who couldn’t care less for romance given the circumstance. Rarely, the focus in this retelling is not on the blossoming moments that the original fairy tale centralised but instead on a forlorn prince, fiesty heroine and resigned guard attempting to salvage what is left of their ruined Kingdom. The decision that they have bigger priorities than their personal happiness which this story pivots is a unique and refreshing take, delivering a far more genuine story for the reader to invest in.

Central to the plot of the original fairytale is love. While readers enter A Curse So Dark and Lonely expecting a beastly lead cajoling the young Belle to love him while trapping her in his castle, they are in fact presented with Rhen whose all but given up on destroying the curse and Harper who couldn’t care less for romance given the circumstance. Rarely, the focus in this retelling is not on the blossoming moments that the original fairy tale centralised but instead on a forlorn prince, fiesty heroine and resigned guard attempting to salvage what is left of their ruined Kingdom. The decision that they have bigger priorities than their personal happiness which this story pivots is a unique and refreshing take, delivering a far more genuine story for the reader to invest in.

The writing style felt simple yet effective. There weren’t many descriptions to embellish the world building but the first person narrative made it easy to understand and connect with the protagonists. The well known setting the author favoured meant readers could confidentially build up a picture of the events of the novel without needing many extra details and the complex and tense discussions between our three protagonists served to highlight their ongoing character development. There were few monologues to delve into each characters individual feelings leaving the reader guessing as to whether the curse could be lifted and questioning if the events of the original fairy tale would come to pass. The novel was, surprisingly, event driven rather than character driving giving it a more adventurous take on the predefined plotline.

“We are all dealt a hand at birth. A good hand can ultimately lose – just as a poor hand can win – but we must all play the cards the fate deals.”

The plot of the novel was unique and unexpected, Kemmerer broadening far beyond the original fairytale yet still keeping a few key elements. This difference leaves readers guessing as to how she will take the plot, her characters far away from the original storyline. Rather than remaining in the castle, slowly falling in love as would have been akin to the original tale Harper reaches out to explore Rhen’s world as they attempt to give the realm the leadership it has lacked since Rhen’s father’s death. The pacing was well done, the novel never feeling predictable as Kemmerer strives to constantly thwart her characters through the dangerous surrounding circumstances or through Lilith, the tale is well constructed. The additional plot points create an engaging and charming storylines that encompasses crucial and interesting themes the original tale never explored.

A Curse so Dark and Lonely takes libities on the word ‘modern’ in its retelling. Disappointingly it is not set in the modern world and instead follows Harper to a magical realm where the retelling is carried out. The world felt unoriginal for a fantasy setting: almost medieval age living conditions, a feudal system hierarchy and predictable monarchy. However the familiar setting made for easy world building as Kemmerer takes well known constructs and simply embellishes them, adding detail to what is already familiar to most fantasy readers. Few details of Washington DC are provided and, despite our heroine being American readers of any nationality will understand the simple city setting presented.

“I’m not going to fall in love with you,” she says.

Her words are not a surprise. I sigh.

“You won’t be the first.”

A Curse so Dark and Lonely takes libities on the word ‘modern’ in its retelling. Disappointingly it is not set in the modern world and instead follows Harper to a magical realm where the retelling is carried out. The world felt unoriginal for a fantasy setting: almost medieval age living conditions, a feudal system hierarchy and predictable monarchy. However the familiar setting made for easy world building as Kemmerer takes well known constructs and simply embellishes them, adding detail to what is already familiar to most fantasy readers. Few details of Washington DC are provided and, despite our heroine being American readers of any nationality will understand the simple city setting presented.

A Curse so Dark and Lonely does not only draw on romantic love as the only form of relationship presented, like the cartoon and fairytale do. Friendship is somewhat more central to the overall plot as Grey’s loyalty to Rhen is often proved to go above his bound duty while Rhen continuly puts Grey’s needs above his own. Furthermore, Harper’s relationship with Zo, the midnight chats and inside jokes, presented the reader with a pair of women who built each other up and lent each other strength in a way few literature heroines do. The novel’s focus on the unromantic love each character shows for one another was unexpected and well written, adding an important dynamic to the plot.

“I had no time to say goodbye. But she knew I loved her. I knew she loved me. It is not the moment of passing that is most important. It is all the moments that come before.”

Despite the whimsical fantasy feel the novel presents it does contain some darker themes. There are trigger warnings for suicide, murder and torture which some may find distressing. The novel is not particularly graphic in its descriptions of these events however and the novel is manageable for most older teen readers and young adults.

Overall this retelling presents unexplored themes of friendship and bravery that always lacked from the original tale. Providing a refreshing take while presenting the reader with many defining character arcs and heart warming scenes of bravery Kemmerer crafts a well written and enchanting tale, adding crucial and complex layers to a questionable fairy tale.

⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

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