A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The narrative expects a relatively high reading level, as characters use lots of big words (e.g. "formidable," "negotiation," "extravagant") and complex ideas. Besides being an imaginative variation on the Beauty and the Beast theme, A Curse So Dark and Lonely passes along a lot of information that may be new to many readers: e.g. protagonist Harper is slightly disabled by cerebral palsy but deals with it, and details about the condition emerge as the story develops.
Strong messages about courage, tenacity, kindness, family, love -- and using both your heart and your head when things get bad.
Positive Role Models
Snarky, smart, tender-hearted and suspicious-minded, Harper loves her family desperately but also, in her assumed role as "Princess Harper of Disi," discovers unexpected depth and imagination in herself as she tries to make sense of Rhen's situation and help him. Rhen starts the story sunk in despair and caring about little but his own troubles -- but he's also done his best to insulate his kingdom against the curse's ill effects, even if only by ignoring it. And with Harper's arrival, he discovers a new commitment to his people. His faithful retainer Grey is courageous, loyal, everything you'd want in a friend -- and more than a bit mysterious.
Violence & Scariness
Villain Lilith delights in inflicting pain, and several scenes involve her torturing victims, including Rhen. Rhen's monster side is responsible for untold gore and destruction, including the slaughter of his own family and an unknown (but presumably large) number of others. Meanwhile, other rulers are seizing the moment to raze villages and slaughter their occupants; one early scene has them threatening to kill children and rape their mother. Harper and others kill their would-be killers in combat; swordplay and other hand-to-hand combat play a large role in the story, as do thoughts of murder and suicide as the monster's next appearance nears. Meanwhile, in Harper's world in D.C., her brother is doing enforcement work for the local loan shark to keep him from killing her family, including her terminally ill mother, because of a debt their long-fled father has racked up.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Rhen's seduction of the magician Lilith (who's working quite hard at making him seduce her) has fateful consequences and unleashes the curse on him and his kingdom. Harper is drawn to him but mindful of the 300+ girls who have been there before her as he uses well-tried charm to make her love him and break the curse. Rhen sees things as he never has before when he starts falling for Harper. Two young men are in a romantic relationship.
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The story's world has its own swear words, of which "silver hell!" seems to be the most popular.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Some drinking of alcohol (including the attempted kidnapping of a drunken young woman from a bar to Rhen's kingdom) and also healing herbal medicine.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that A Curse So Dark and Lonely, the first book in the Cursebreaker series by bestselling author Brigid Kemmerer, is an imaginative variation on the "Beauty and the Beast" theme -- in this case, featuring a high-school senior with a bad leg from cerebral palsy and also a raft of family troubles, who finds herself snatched to the kingdom of Emberfall. Where Prince Rhen has been forced to relive the autumn of his 18th birthday 300 times now, which always ends in gore as he turns into a monster. There's a lot of dark stuff here, from the hacking, stabbing, and devouring to a sadistic villainess who makes her victim spit blood just for the fun of it. But in this murky world, young Harper's snarky ways, kind heart, and considerable courage open up new possibilities and unexpected hope.
Is It Any Good?
Brigid Kemmerer's take on "Beauty and the Beast" brings three intriguing, complex characters and a delicate, mostly successful balance of darkness, gore, magic, humor, snark, and heart. Oh, and horses. There's a lot going on in A Curse So Dark and Lonely, and sometimes the reader's suspension of disbelief gets a bit strained. Like when the heroine, who has a bad leg as the result of cerebral palsy, is able to skillfully ride the fiercest warhorse in the kingdom because she took therapeutic riding before her family fell on hard times. But this is fantasy, right?
And between the hacking, slashing, and sadistic villainy, there's a lot about standing up for your loved ones, being responsible for others, and working together. Also snark, humor, a bit of a love triangle, and characters you want to spend more time with. Good news: There's a sequel in the works.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.