Title: A Curse So Dark and Lonely
Series: Cursebreakers #1
Author: Bridget Kemmerer
Genre/Themes: Young Adult Fantasy, Reimagined Fairytale, Beauty and the Beast, Disability Representation – cerebral palsy
Blurb from Goodreads
Fall in love, break the curse.
It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.
Nothing has ever been easy for Harper Lacy. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.
Break the curse, save the kingdom.
A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realises Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.
A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a fairly standard YA fantasy. It is a retelling of the popular fairytale of Beauty and the Beast and therefore bears more than a passing resemblance to Sarah J Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses. However, this is thankfully far more YA appropriate and it’s a very easy and entertaining read.
The plot is very trope heavy with a saviour-esque type of main character with shades of not-like-other-girls syndrome but it works because the book is nicely written and incredibly engaging.
The characters in A Curse So Dark and Lonely are mostly quite run of the mill and what one would expect from a fantasy:
There’s a tortured hero in the shape of Crown Prince Rhen who is internalising all his hatred of himself and his guilt at having been a reckless cad once upon a time that has ultimately lead to the downfall of both his family and his kingdom.
Then there is Scary Grey, his right hand man and honestly the most interesting character in the book because despite his shady behaviour (I mean hello he kidnaps girls to bring them back to the castle in an attempt to force the, into falling in love with Rhen and breaking the curse)… But yes despite that he is charming AF! Fabulously sassy and pretty much is the type of character that you just can’t help but care about.
But then there is Harper… Harper is the main character. She’s a bit guilty of being not like other girls… But that’s forgivable because Harper has cerebral palsy and her disability rep is freaking refreshing!!
I really think it was a brave decision of Kemmerer’s to incorporate a disabled YA heroine into a standard YA fantasy because it’s so easy to paint a character in need of sympathy etc. and fall into quite problematic tropes.
To me it certainly elevates this book from the plethora of YA fantasy that abounds. What the book through Harper’s presence does is make a very good stab at normalising disability to the able bodied masses and helps to show that being both disabled and feisty are not mutually exclusive.
And what I greatly appreciate is that the book shows how Harper understands her own body and its limits. At no point in the book did it feel like Harper was doing things outside the scope of her physical limitations, or when she did force her body to her ultimate maximum it came at a heavy cost.
Therefore, her cerebral palsy was never forgotten nor swept aside. She wasn’t magically cured for a happy ever after ableist ending. I’m looking at you Everything Everything you offensive piece of trash writing. In fact here it was quite the opposite.
As a character, Harper very much takes agency over the narrative of her disability and challenges anyone that questions her resolve, her strength of character and also challenges anyone who sees her as nothing more than a crippled girl or someone made impotent by disability.
She is not a character that seeks pity for being disabled. She immediately shoots down any opinions that even dare to imply that she is somehow less than because of her physical limitations.
And yet she doesn’t ever feel the need to apologise for not being able to do certain physical tasks. She just 100% is like I’m here, my body is disabled and it’s up to everyone else to deal with that because she accepts herself for exactly who she is. I very much applaud the ownership she takes over her own body and how she chooses to live her life.
Harper has an incredibly positive attitude with regards to her disability. And that is nice to read about for a change but it’s also not entirely as simple as that. As just because she has a positive mindset does not mean that she ever forgets about her disability. How could she? It’s inherently part of her and something she can never escape as it 100% dictates how she has to live her life. So I would have liked to have seen a little more frustration at her physical limitations from time to time in the book. Because it would have made the disability feel a little more present in the storyline and perhaps would have altered any possible perception that Harper brushes aside or forgets about her disability in order to be kick ass and feisty.
Harper could not be further from that problematic idea that disability is ever a free pass or a reason to swipe a victim card as she was written in a well rounded fashion and therefore was not simply defined by the parameters of her illness; i.e. the book showed her as having a fully formed personality.
What I enjoyed about the disability rep is that at the end of the book Harper displayed great strength of character in pushing her body to its utmost limits to fight off the attacks on Emberfall but ultimately we were shown that this was at a cost and that Harper had to pay the ‘disability tax‘ and the effects of what this monumental effort did to her body were evident… Okay I personally would have liked that focused on a touch more but I still appreciate what was written! So she quite clearly never brushes off her disability as the effects of said are there to be seen. A disability is part of who you are, not something that can truly ever be forgotten but yet it is not your whole persona.
So while this book certainly isn’t without flaw and the main plot certainly suffers from a lack of originality, it is definitely enjoyable and I appreciate seeing a disabled character in such an action packed adventure story. It makes for a refreshing change and I for one cannot wait to get my hands on the sequel.
A solid YA fantasy