CATSS Critics: A Curse So Dark and Lonely

This entry has been published on October 15, 2021 and may be out of date.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely, by Brigid Kemmerer (YA FIC KEM)

Reviewed by Zoe R.

It is one matter to fall in love with a man, yet it is another matter to fall in love with a monster. In Brigid Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely, a loose re-telling of Beauty and the Beast unfolds as Rhen—the crown prince of Emberfall—is cursed. He is forever tethered to the age of eighteen where, at the end of each season, he becomes an undiscerning beast. In an attempt to break the curse, Grey—the last man remaining of his royal guard—brings over girls from another world: our world. Supposedly, by falling in love with Rhen, the curse can be broken; three-hundred seasons later, however, the curse remains strong. When Grey takes the unwilling Harper, who’s struggling with her dying mother and debt-ridden brother, she learns that she can only leave Emberfall once the season ends, or if she breaks the curse on Rhen.

When it comes to the heroine, Harper was a relatable character with spunk, consistently working to make the best of her forced situation. Perhaps the most interesting aspect about the book was how the author handled Harper’s cerebral palsy. The group of movement disorders wasn’t something to overcome, nor did it weaken Harper, so much as it was a part of her. There were, however, several points of logic that weakened the book. Firstly, the plot centers around a charade, in which Rhen and Harper hope to convince others that Harper is the princess of an imaginary country with a massive army. Even without “modern technology,” there is bound to be individuals knowledgeable on foreign nations, or at least multiple opponents who would take initiative to confirm if said nation exists earlier on instead of at the end.

The romantic premise also felt rather illogical, though in this case, predominantly immoral. It rested on kidnapping girls (some came willingly, others did not) to a foreign world without the ability to leave as they were pressured to fall in love. While Harper acknowledged at one instant that falling in love with Rhen would be akin to Stockholm’s Syndrome, it does not change what the matter is, and that such a fate is a hard pill to swallow. Particularly since Rhen is keeping her here, without any method of bringing her back home for several months, as her mother is dying from cancer and her brother’s life is also at risk, clueless to his sister’s whereabouts. And, when it came to Rhen, the women he had courted in prior seasons were not his equals, but instead to be used for his own ends: “I have had over three hundred women to practice on. I should have known better.”

There were also some more minor—though nonetheless important—flaws. The romance, for instance, included a futile love triangle with a predictable conclusion; personally, in the interactions, I felt that Harper had stronger chemistry with the other man in the love triangle, instead of the rather flat and arrogant Rhen, yet the book’s premise forbade them from ending up together. There was also a plot twist near the end that, to limit spoilers, had a rather unrealistic, out-of-character action. And, finally, when it comes to the world, its setting was mainly undeveloped, having the standard inns, monarchy and royal guards, with little depth added.

All of this said, many young adult readers are fond of the novel. It holds interest in its likable protagonist Harper, the loose interpretation of a familiar tale, the often solid interactions between Harper and the royal guard Grey, its approachable writing style, and the decent mixture of darker and lighthearted moments. Yet, while some may very well be drawn into the tale of Emberfall, there are others, like Harper at the beginning, who may want to leave early.