A CURSE SO DARK AND LONELY by BRIGID KEMMERER
A REVIEW BY ALEXA DUNCAN
I’m going to be honest with you all for a second: I only wanted to read A Curse So Dark and Lonely because the main character has cerebral palsy. You know who else has cerebral palsy? ME, DEAR READER. It’s me. I also have cerebral palsy. I was so excited for this book, even months before its publication, because of this fact. It’s rare to see disabled characters in YA fiction. It’s even rarer to see them in speculative fiction. Rarer still that they’re girls. It is for all these reasons that I couldn’t wait to have A Curse So Dark and Lonely in my hands. Until I got it. Then I put off reading it for months because that’s what I do with things I know I’m going to like/might hate.
Unfortunately, I was not as impressed with A Curse near as much as I wanted to be.
First things first: A Curse So Dark and Lonely follows our main character, Harper, who gets kidnapped into a magical realm where winter is everlasting and the castle is enchanted. Harper’s life back in the real world–Washington DC to be exact–is a pretty crappy one. Her father is gone, her mother is dying of cancer, and her brother resorts to petty crime to help pay the bills. It is during one such crime that Harper is swept away into Emberfall, a fantasy land and kingdom of Prince Rhen. Prince Rhen is our other POV character and the “Beast” of this kinda-sorta Beayty and the Beast retelling. Rhen needs Harper to break his beastly curse while Harper just wants to go home. Shenanigans ensue.
Now here’s why I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would:
Obviously the thing I was looking forward to the most was Harper’s disability representation. I NEVER see female disabled characters in YA fiction so I really wanted to love her. I…didn’t. Swap Harper out with an able-bodied character and you’d have the same story. Her cerebral palsy rarely affects the story in any way, aside from a few people asking her why she limps all the time. It was disappointing to say the least. Another thing I didn’t like about Harper was that she was boring, constantly touted as being “not like the other girls” who had been kidnapped by Emberfall, just because she plays cards and wants to learn how to use a sword. This trope is tiresome and I wish it would stop being used.
Similarly, Rhen is also boring. He’s tortured because of his curse, which I understand, but there wasn’t a lot of depth to him and I found his constant misery to be a downer to read about. The romance between him and Harper wasn’t as believable as I wanted it to be, either. She starts off the book not trusting him, and that distrust falls away in a few chapters. Suddenly they’ve fallen in love over the course of a chapter and I just didn’t buy it.
Despite my complaining, there were a few things I liked. Grey being one of them. Grey is Rhen’s commander and the only person I felt really invested in throughout the story. I loved Grey’s combination of softness and seriousness, his loyalty and sense of duty. Personally, I wanted Harper to end up with Grey the whole time, not Rhen! I also appreciated the attempt at disability rep. It’s a step forward at least, and I hope to see many more disabled characters in YA in the future!
You can check out a copy of A Curse So Dark and Lonely at the Argenta library today!