“Beauty and the Beast” was never so engrossing as Brigid Kemmerer’s version, “A Curse So Dark and Lonely.” This retelling is a true harkening back to the original Grimm tales — dark, thrilling, and really violent. Fantasy lovers will love this story from the first page.
The reader is hooked from the start. “There is blood under my fingernails. I wonder how many of my people I’ve killed this time.” That’s Rhen, one of the two main characters narrating. The narration alternates between Rhen and Harper, the “beauty” who must save him. However in the first of many twists, she is not quite a beauty and she limps from cerebral palsy. Her mother is dying of cancer and her brother is trying to protect their family from debts incurred by their father before he abandoned them — debts to not-nice people who are not above threatening them for repayment.
Rhen is the prince who angered the fairy. However, in another twist, she is not a fairy, but rather an evil magical being who was spurned by the prince after a night together. The prince, Rhen, is not blameless. He was spoiled, arrogant, and thoughtless when she cursed him. But that was almost 400 seasons ago, back when the curse began.
Every season (three months), Rhen’s loyal guard, Grey, travels across to an alternate world, Harper’s world, and brings back a woman. Rhen then has three months to get her to fall in love with him. But before the three months are over, he turns into a monster and kills everyone around. Grey tries to lead the monster away, but the monster tries to kill him, as well. While Rhen is the monster, he is not aware of who he really is, but after he returns to human form, he sees the devastation that he has wrought.
This time, when Grey crosses over, Harper sees him subdue a women, and she decides to intervene. She grabs a crowbar and attacks him. They both end up in Emberfall, Rhen’s kingdom. All might seem to be lost — Grey cannot return to get another woman, and Harper is far from someone who is ready to fall in love with a few sweet nothings whispered in her ear.
What she finds is a kingdom that is in ruins. People are frightened of being killed by the monster, and they are being burned out of their homes by strangers, and many have fled. The castle guard have either been killed by the monster or run away. Now the kingdom is in even more danger, and Harper, who is constantly overlooked and underestimated because of her limp, might just be the one to save it.
The writing is lovely, the story thrilling, and the description detailed. What’s nice is that for a love story, it’s really more about adventure, plotting, and character change. There is romance, sure, but ironically it becomes a minor part of the story.
This is probably not a book for middle grade readers. The violence is graphic and fills the pages and there are a few sexual references that are best not read by those under the age of 12. But this is as much a book that adults will enjoy as a young adult read. And while it’s very satisfying as a stand alone novel, there will be a sequel.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Bloomsbury, the publisher, for review purposes.