Beauty and the Beast is one of my favourite fairy tales, and I’ve read countless retellings since I first started reading. Having been wowed recently by Hunted, I really wasn’t sure I had space in my heart for another new retelling so soon, but A Curse So Dark And Lonely surprised me by being so wholly different and original that it was easy to fall in love with it.
Book: A Curse So Dark And Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
Read before: No
Ownership: E-ARC provided by NetGalley for fair review.
It’s always interesting seeing which aspects of the traditional story authors keep, and which they change up. Here, we have a Beast (Prince Rhen) who was cursed to repeat the autumn of his 18th birthday over and over, until he manages to win the heart of a woman. However, he quickly realises how damaging this is to the women of his country, and begins to steal women from further afield – namely, our world. The most important part of the curse is that he is not condemned to Beast-form all the time; rather, as time progresses over each autumn, he begins to change into a monster. This is quite helpful, since he does have some time to woo a woman while looking human; but it also causes a lot of problems when he pretends that there is a separate monster ravaging the kingdom.
Rather than have our Beauty, Harper, trade herself to save her father from the Beast, we actually find her attempting to stop a drunk woman being abducted from the streets of DC. As the woman runs away, the abductor grabs Harper instead. This is actually a really neat way of showing Harper’s bravery, and made me instantly warm to her – who doesn’t love women trying to save women? I also really like that it’s immediately apparent that she is so not the type of girl the prince usually gets.
When I first realised that this book was going to offer a modern, real-world Beauty transported into the magical land of the Beast, I was actually really wary. I read a lot of fairytale retellings because they possess a special kind of atmosphere, and I really wasn’t sure that having a modern American teenager wouldn’t completely ruin that. I was prepared to hate Harper. However, events like the above meant that she very quickly charmed me. She’s savvy and strong in a 21st century way, but she isn’t all pop-culture references and technology. She quickly begins to think and act in ways appropriate to her new setting. I really liked that adaptability, partly because it made her an interesting character, and partly because it meant that she didn’t harm the fairytale feel at all.
I can’t speak to the accuracy of the cerebral palsy rep, but I loved that it was included. It felt really well-handled in that Harper is always factoring in her limits, and working out ways to get around them – for example, early on she uses the furniture in the stable to be able to mount a horse, which she couldn’t do from the ground. Again, it shows how very adaptable she is – she knows herself very well, but she isn’t going to let her disability get in her way.
The sorceress behind the curse is way more present than in the original. She’s an out-and-out villain here, with cackling and seemingly limitless powers. She’d twirl a moustache if she had one. It’s a good way to ramp up the tension, since the Beast is a fairly mild-mannered prince most of the time. I really enjoyed her presence – having a direct face of the curse to talk to, rail against, and fight with makes for much more personal scenes. Actually, the whole book is an excellent example of very personal insights into characters. The POV alternates between Rhen and Harper, and both have very distinct voices. I liked seeing how they kept secrets from one another – having this window into both their heads made them seem really well-rounded characters.
The story plays out along the basic plot lines of Beauty and the Beast, in as much as there’s the slow romance; the bit where Beauty returns home to see her family, then comes back to the castle to find it’s all gone a bit tits up; the dramatic moment where they realise they love each other and the curse breaks… These aren’t really spoilers when the story’s been around for thousands of years! What is extremely clever is everything else that Brigid Kemmerer weaves around these bones. We get a story of the political logistics of running a kingdom where the ruler is, well, a beast; a deep look at how guilt and regret can either make or break a person; a really clever plot involving Harper pretending to be a princess from the mythical land of ‘Disi’ (DC!). There are quiet moments and dramatic ones, and the whole flow of the story is just really gorgeous.
I was absolutely swept away by this story. It’s a brilliant retelling, but it’s also a really lovely and well-written fantasy book in its own right. It publishes in January 2019, so make sure it’s on pre-order if you’re a Beauty and the Beast fan!