A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer, published by Bloomsbury Children's Books on 29th January 2019
Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year, Prince Rhen, the heir of Emberfall, thought he could be saved easily if a girl fell for him. But that was before he turned into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. Before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.
Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, Harper learned to be tough enough to survive. When she tries to save a stranger on the streets of Washington, DC, she's pulled into a magical world.
Harper doesn't know where she is or what to believe. A prince? A curse? A monster? As she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what's at stake. And as Rhen realizes 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.
I'm going to stick my neck out now and say that this is the best fairy tale retelling I've ever read. I often have high hopes for this type of book, only to end up disappointed but there was nothing disappointing about 'A Curse So Dark and Lonely'. Brigid Kemmerer has got the perfect balance between old and new elements of the story with this wonderful fantasy twist on the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast. I've read other books by the same author but this is my absolute favourite. Kemmerer's storytelling skills and way with words are both sublime and her characters come alive in such a way that you never stop rooting for them. We may only be in April but I have a feeling that I've already found one of the best books of 2019.
The essential elements of Beauty and the Beast are there to see (Prince must make a girl fall in love with him to break a curse) but they're interwoven in such a unique and original way that it felt like capturing all the best elements of a truly classic tale with fresh, modern touches that transformed it into something new and wondrous.
The narrative switches back and forth between Prince Rhen of Emberfall and a young girl called Harper of modern day Washington, D.C. She is inadvertently transported to Emberfall by the Prince's Commander Grey. Both were strong voices in the story that I equally enjoyed reading. The Prince has been cursed to live his 18th year over and over again, until he can find a girl who will fall in love with him. The problem is that the Prince is hiding a terrible secret which threatens the lives of everyone in the kingdom and makes him a little less marriageable material.
I absolutely loved Rhen and Harper. The latter has cerebral palsy but doesn't let this stop her from being a real bad-ass! She is clever, resourceful, independent and brave. She won't be won over easily and isn't swayed by fancy dresses or the comfort of the castle. She is used to being underestimated and thought weak, so the development of her character was excellent because Kemmerer shows her growing in confidence, refusing to be pushed aside and becoming more and more integral to the future of Emberfall. I was also won over by Prince Rhen but my favourite was probably Commander Grey. He's not the love interest (although could have been) and has a steely personality which begins to soften in the presence of Harper.
The story is so much more than just a romance though and it would do it an injustice to label it as such. It is also about saving a kingdom, preventing a war and finding your true place in the world, wherever that may be.
'A Curse So Dark and Lonely' is the perfect combination of fantasy, adventure, romance and heroism. The sequel, 'A Heart So Fierce and Broken', is set for 2020, although that is such an unbearably long time to wait! I'm excited to find out what happens to the people of Emberfall next. Kemmerer leaves you with the taste of anticipation and a wish to return as quickly as possible to this incredible world.