A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale. The main character is Harper, a young girl in the 21st century. Harper lives with cerebral palsy, her father is gone, her mother is terminally ill and her brother now seems to be participating in increasingly sketchy situations. Rhen is the Prince of the kingdom of Emberfall. He has been cursed to relive the months around his eighteenth birthday unless a girl falls in (true) love with him. At the end of each cycle Rhen becomes a hideous Beast–a different Beast each time–who wreaks havoc in the kingdom. When Harper tries to help a girl she believes is being kidnapped, she is transported from the modern world to that of Rhen and Emberfall.
The basic plot of the original fairytale are clearly evident as the foundation for the story of Harper and Rhen. Both characters are well developed as well as intriguing. They are distinct individuals with distinct voices–which I love. Harper’s 21st-century sensibilities give the fairytale a fresh, modern feel. It’s a perfect blend of modern and fairytale world. The supporting characters–especially the Head of Rhen’s Guard, Grey–and to some extent Harper’s brother, are also very three-dimensional and add to the strength of the story. I particularly liked the fact that having cerebral palsy did not define Harper’s character. It is a part of her and as such, informs some of her decisions and creates situations in which she must navigate a different path to the same destination than would someone without CP. It also becomes evident that others underestimate her because she has CP, and consequently, she realizes that perhaps she has underestimated herself. Because Harper’s CP is evident and acknowledged in her life, but not automatically obvious in Emberfall, she has a chance to see herself in a new light and discover how much she is capable of accomplishing without any preconceptions about her abilities. This aspect of Harper’s growth during the novel is my favorite part.
I don’t mind knowing how a story is going to end if the path from beginning to end is interesting. That is certainly true of A Curse So Dark and Lonely! It’s definitely an upper middle or YA reading choice. There are romantic elements between Rhen and Harper that will not interest younger readers. In fact, that was my one small disappointment about the book. I will state here that I don’t think it’s because of my age; even as a child, teenager and young adult I was never the boy-crazy, gushy over romance type. It’s not that I don’t find love and kindness and compassion compelling, I just, personally, am bored and sometimes irritated by the romance aspects in stories. I often find them unnecessary and shallow. Obviously, in a retelling of Beauty and the Beast there has to be a romance element, since it is the key to defeating the Beast’s curse. I’m also aware that the romantic elements are exactly what might draw certain readers to this type of story. I will say that in spite of those moments in the story that detailed the more romantic feelings of the characters I truly enjoyed A Curse So Dark and Lonely. While it didn’t rise to the same level for me as Cinder (and the rest of the Lunar Chronicles series) by Marissa Meyer, A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a worthwhile read–especially if you enjoy a strong male/female duo and classic fairytales retold with a modern twist.