My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’ve never fallen in love with anyone, much less someone who snatched me right off the street.
I’m very happy to convey my thoughts about this YA masterpiece. Compared to other retellings of Beauty and the Beast, such as Hunted and A Court of Thorns and Roses, A Curse So Dark and Lonely is probably the most gripping, especially in terms of character development. Harper, Rhen, and Grey are indeed fictional, but their respective struggles and interactions will make you wish that they were real.
Since A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a reimagining of a beloved classic, you might already have assumptions about the plot. However, this book evokes originality by using both real and fantastical settings. Harper, the heroine, initially lives in Washington, D.C. However, Grey, a guardsman who can “cross the veil between worlds,” eventually brings her to a magical kingdom called Emberfall. Gleaning from how Harper quickly adjusts to her new life and all its peculiarities, this novel is also a work of magical realism. The narrators don’t explain how their worlds coexist, so you have no choice but to suspend your disbelief. If you see this as a lack of world-building, I understand.
As far as retellings are concerned, ACSDAL has a refreshing Belle archetype, one who is aware of Stockholm Syndrome. I took the quote above from one of Harper’s internal monologues. I was amazed by how she immediately deduced the reason for her abduction despite Rhen’s penchant for keeping secrets. Empowered by such knowledge, Harper protected her agency and resolved not to fall in love with him under any circumstance.
A few days ago, the author went live on Instagram, so I asked her about the delicate romance in ACSDAL. Brigid basically said that she explicitly mentioned Stockholm Syndrome in her work because she did not want Harper to be a character who frustrated readers with her ignorance. With that in mind, if you expect Harper to besotted with the Beast like the typical Belle, think again. Regardless of her cerebral palsy, she’s not to be underestimated. Rhen and Grey weren’t aware of this at the beginning, and it resulted in a few minor problems (injuries). Hahaha.
Unlike Harper, Rhen was a little predictable. He wasn’t overrated exactly, but he fell into most of the Beast-related stereotypes. For instance, as I expected, Rhen was a spoiled brat before the curse. And when Harper came into his life, he changed for the better. To compensate for this familiar character milestone, the author gave him multiple “evolutions” (like a Pokémon) as well as a shocking tormentor. This isn’t necessarily a positive thing (some feminists might say otherwise), but it was my first time to read about a man being sexually abused by a woman. Oh well, at least the descriptions weren’t unadulterated.
The most unique protagonist in the book was Grey. Dear Grey. Contrary to his tough and stoic appearance, he was the softest cinnamon roll in Emberfall. Something about him was so appealing to me as a reader. Perhaps it was his unquestionable loyalty to Rhen? Or the way he was good with children? Hmm…it must be how he always made Harper feel less alone. Only fans of Sarah J. Maas will get this reference, but Grey was a much better version of Lucien from ACOTAR. I’m comfortable making such comparisons since the books have the same publisher. Whatever novel you choose to read, Bloomsbury will make a profit. But I digress. The ending of ACSDAL had something to do with Grey, and it nearly made me have a book hangover. I’ll be one of the first people to request an ARC of the sequel once it becomes available. Wahaha.
Ultimately, A Curse So Dark and Lonely is the best book I’ve read this year. It deserves 5 stars not because it’s perfect but because it can give you so much joy and inspiration. This heartwarming story of love, courage, and sacrifice will stay in my memory for a long time.