I read this book immediately after The Queen of Nothing, hoping it would fill the hole left by Holly Black’s fantastic end to an amazing trilogy. And it did…but after finishing it, that hole now feels twice as big. Luckily, this series is still ongoing, and the sequel is out in January, so seems like I read it at the right time.
A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, with a slight modern twist. Prince Rhen is cursed to repeat the same season, over and over, transforming into a beast at the end and slaughtering everyone in his path, unless he can find a girl to fall in love with him. By the time we meet him, he barely knows of anything happening outside his cursed castle, and the only person left at his side is the commander of his Royal Guard, Grey.
After trying to find a woman among his own people, Rhen turns to Grey, and Grey is granted the ability – from the same enchantress who cursed them – to cross to the ‘other side’ at the start of every season.
Mistakes and errors lead Grey to taking Harper from Washington, DC to Emberfall. Harper doesn’t want to be there, she doesn’t want to deal with princes and guards and enchanted instruments – she wants to know her brother and her mother are safe, with her brother working for a loan shark to pay off their father’s debts, and her mother suffering from cancer.
I was completely and utterly gripped by the story, right from the very first page. The world painted is vivid, though it is dark and dangerous there are spots of warmth to be found, even with an eerie, empty castle. The characters are complex and interesting, each with their own issues to work through and trying to cope with the situations they find themselves in.
To me, Harper felt like a really strong character, one determined to do the right thing, even at risk to herself, and as she maneuvers through this world, learning about politics and royalty and other things she’s never had to think about before, she shows herself to be kind and endearing, considerate and strong-willed, and those aspects combined endear her to everyone around her.
There’s a very slight almost love triangle, but it never really grows into anything. There’s the potential of feelings between Harper and Grey, but that aspect is more played on when it comes to Rhen, watching them interact and seeing something deeper than what’s happening before him.
The aspect of Rhen being a beast some of the time, and the beast never being the same twice, was one I really liked – it added tension and uncertainty, as there was never any way to plan for what could happen.
I also really liked the interactions between him and Harper. Although she is kidnapped and forced to remain in Emberfall, so much of what happens between her and Rhen is about trust. There’s no insta-love here, but two wounded, defensive people trying to work around one another, approaching each other slowly and carefully, each as like as the other to take simple words or gestures the wrong way.
Although it is a retelling, there is little too predictable about the book, and it brings together elements of the fairytale well, while also mixing things up so nothing here feels overly familiar or overdone.
I really enjoyed the slow burn aspect to their relationship, and loved the way it unfolded. Overall, this is a really strong novel, one I could barely put down, and definitely worth checking out if you haven’t done so already.