I am 100% a mood reader.
Despite the fact that books and reading are such a huge part of my job, almost all of the reading I do is for fun, and I read whatever sounds appealing to me at the moment.
I had no schedule or plan for reading these books – I just wanted to keep them in mind.
And then, when life shut down, suddenly a Beauty and the Beast re-telling felt like exactly what I wanted to read. I pulled my copy off my shelf and . . . it was the perfect fantasy escape.
I generally love a good fairy tale retelling, and A Curse So Dark and Lonely didn’t let me down.
A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
Rhen is the crown prince of Emberfall. That might have seemed pretty great once, but after a misstep with an enchantress, he’s been cursed to relive the same season (fall) over and over again until he can get a girl to fall in love with him. He’s rich, handsome, and smart, so this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Except for the issue that at the end of every season, he turns into a vicious monster (it’s a different kind every time) and goes on a murderous rampage that he can’t control and has no memory of when the season resets each time. Within a season or two, he’s accidentally killed off all his family and all of the palace servants and guards except for one, the Guard Commander Grey (while everything resets each season, the people who are dead? Stay dead).
Time is moving forward outside the castle walls while it resets within the castle walls, so Rhen’s kingdom has watched five years pass with no word from the silent castle and no idea what’s become of their king (Rhen’s father) and why he’s not protecting them from the monster that keeps attacking them. Rumors of neighboring kingdoms considering marching to overthrow Emberfall and take control of the kingdom aren’t helping moral much either.
Basically, it’s all PRETTTTY bleak in Emberfall.
At the beginning of each season, Rhen sends Grey to find a new girl, although his hope that anyone is ever going to fall in love with him and break the spell is pretty much non-existent at this point. But what other choice does he have?
And then, at the beginning of this season, Grey crosses from Emberfall into our world (Washington DC, to be exact) to retrieve a girl to bring back. And everything goes awry.
Because Grey is spotted by Harper, a teenage girl keeping watch for her older brother while he does the bidding of the thugs that are on the hunt for their missing father. Her life is also in shambles – not only is her dad gone, but her mom is dying of cancer, and her brother is caught up with these criminals. Plus she has cerebral palsy.
But when she spots a strange man (Grey) carrying away another young woman, she’s not going to let that happen and she attacks him, which results in her being the one taken back to Emberfall instead.
Rhen is immediately certain that if there was ever a girl to break the curse, it is NOT Harper who has zero interest in Emberfall and just wants to get back to DC where she knows her brother will be going nuts with worry for her, not to mention that she’s terrified her mother will die while she’s gone.
And then, just to make things extra interesting, the enchantress appears and tells Rhen that this is going to be the final season. Break the curse before winter arrives or it’s over forever.
I just read Beauty (one of my favorite fairy tale retellings) with the girls a few months ago, so it was on my mind when I was reading this and I realized that some retellings are about 80% the original story with 20% of the author’s own twists.
Beauty is definitely one of those. It stays very close to the original with its own spin to it.
A Curse So Dark and Lonely, on the other hand, is only about 20% of the source material and 80% its own spin. The story switches back and forth from Harper to Rhen, so you get to see his point of view of how this whole mess is unfolding, plus you have a serious whole world here.
Most Beauty and the Beast stories (at least that I have seen) have the Beast’s world as pretty much nothing but the isolated castle. This one has a full, bustling world, with a kingdom full of cities, plus other kingdoms beyond the borders of Emberfall. It’s a completely different feeling.
And while you generally know how a familiar fairy tale is going to play out because you already know the plot and the fun is watching it happen, in this one, I wasn’t at all sure what was going to happen. From the very first pages, the whole Beauty and the Beast storyline was so turned on its head, I couldn’t predict how it might end. But it sure was fun to watch.
And all three of the main characters – Harper, Rhen, and Grey – are TERRIFIC. They’re smart and determined and they’re all very different and three-dimensional.
Plus, there is so much witty dialogue and clever writing, which I LIVE for in a book.
Also, did I mention this is a fantasy book without a map in the front? Basically my dream come true.
And did I buy the sequel within moments of finishing the book? You bet I did (I got the audio version of the second one).
I mentioned this book a few weeks ago because both the paperback and the Kindle version were so inexpensive and I’ve loved that so many of you read it along with me. Every time I mentioned it on Instagram, I’d get a flood of messages from people who had just started it, just finished it, or were halfway through and loving it as much as I did.
It made the whole ride just that much more delightful.
If you’re looking for a truly terrific fairy tale, you can’t do much better than this one.