One of the hardest things about reading A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer was how much I desperately wanted to like it but just couldn’t bring myself to. It was a Beauty and the Beast retelling, both things that I love immensely, and it had representation for cerebral palsy, which I’ve never seen in a book before. Plus, the cover is amazing. By and large, I should have loved this book.
But in all honesty, I kind of hated it.
As always with a retelling of this nature, readers soon find themselves introduced to the beauty and the beast of the story. There’s a curse that transforms the prince into a monster, though in this case, he’s only a monster for the end of a season rather than when he and the girl he’s meant to fall in love with first meet. There’s an enchantress, who also serves as the villain of our story, and the kingdom has been left to fend for itself while the prince focuses entirely on breaking his curse with the help of his most loyal guard who also serves to kidnap women for him to potentially trick into loving him.
Beginning simply with that short summary, this story already sounds awful. The most glaring piece of it lies in the fact that all the women are kidnapped and brought to the castle in order for the prince–who’s looking pretty selfish at this point, let’s be real–to convince to fall in love with him so he can break his curse. Now, I’ll be honest, Prince Rhen definitely doesn’t deserve a lot of what he goes through at the hands of the villain–her motivations are incredibly petty and ridiculous, really–but that doesn’t quite justify ordering your guard to kidnap women. There’s such a blatant disregard for every single one of these 300+ girls, some of which died in the process of Rhen’s selfish quest.
Unfortunately, though, not only is Rhen vastly unlikable, which doesn’t change much throughout the book, he’s also rather flat as a character. He barely develops at all, only being moved to care about his kingdom and people by being manipulated, and never really seems to get past the whole woe-is-me attitude. He’s completely inept at charming Harper and yet somehow she magically grows to care about him as time goes on, leaving the romance feeling very insta-lovey and contrived.
Which brings me into the fact that Harper and Rhen had absolutely no chemistry. What’s even worse, Harper actually had significant chemistry with Rhen’s guard, Grey. And here is where I laugh because I literally spent half of this book waiting for Beauty and the Guard to become a thing and run off together or kill the selfish prince. After all, what other purpose could there be to set up a potential love spark between these two characters?
And then there’s Harper who, barring the fact that she had cerebral palsy, was completely irritating and flat as a character. I deeply appreciate the rep as that is extremely important. But when given to an annoying, not-like-other-girls trope of a character…what’s the point? As simply as I can put it, I kind of hated Harper. She was very cookie-cutter in how much she fit this mold caricature of strong-willed fighter types that somehow still constantly need to be saved and all the guys somehow find more impressive than every other female they know. As if someone who likes to ride horses and wants to learn how to fight could never possibly appreciate finery and clothing. As if enjoying those things makes someone an idiot automatically.
Despite all the men in this story finding her immensely impressive and interesting, I couldn’t get past how dull and annoying she was. Add in the fact that her purpose in the story was to pester and shout at Rhen until he did the right thing and I found myself rolling my eyes far too often. Which is even more frustrating because I wanted to like her. I tried really hard to like her. But she kept giving me reasons not to; like when she was massively shocked that a woman managed to prove herself worthy of becoming a guard and didn’t bat an eyelash when she was told that the women of the castle were the only ones charged with decorating it. And yet, somehow, this story was meant to be feminist?
Ironically, though, all of that pales in comparison to the pretty average, bordering on poor writing throughout and absolutely ridiculous plot twist that came about at the end. There were a lot of sloppy moments and though the writing was engaging and fast-paced enough, it wasn’t impressive in any way. And I know a lot of people were amazed by that epilogue, but frankly, I thought it was the dumbest possible direction the book could have headed in. I was already annoyed beyond belief at the love triangle set-up and then Kemmerer had to go and make it ten times worse. Perhaps I’m one of few, but I also saw that plot twist coming a mile away.
Now, there were some things that I liked of course, though they were few and most weren’t even focused on long within the novel. Grey was very likable–barring the fact that he was the one kidnapping the women–and I enjoyed his character for the most part. I was especially kind of rooting for him to run off with Harper, though I knew that would never happen. Overall, this was an incredibly quick read, which I appreciated. And while Jake and Noah were not in the book long, I really loved that they existed in the first place. Jake did, unfortunately, piss me off at times but fortunately, I did love Noah a lot.
A Curse so Dark and Lonely is definitely not going to end up on any of my permanent shelves at home and if I hadn’t gotten the ARC for its sequel prior to reading this one, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to read it merely due to how much I didn’t like the main characters.