A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Cursed is a young adult novel by screenwriter Thomas Wheeler and illustrated by comic artist Frank Miller that's been adapted for a 2020 Netflix series set to premiere in 2020. A loose take on the Arthurian legends, this story centers on Nimue, a young woman from a Druid village, whose dying mother entrusts the Sword of Power to her for transport to Merlin. On her journey, she becomes the reluctant leader of the Fey Folk, humans and creatures who can practice magic and are being persecuted by a religious order. Miller's stylized illustrations -- 30 black and white and 8 full color -- punctuate the story. While there are positive messages about the responsibility to help those in need and about women as capable leaders, there's a great deal of violence (torture, bloody sword killings by villains and main characters) and related darker themes about hatred and its consequences. Nimue and supporting characters are admirable and selfless at times, but they're also sometimes driven by dark motives like fear and revenge. There's one passionate kiss and a brief scene that includes nudity while bathing. Language is similarly tame, with only a few uses of "s--t" and "ass."
What's the story?
At the beginning of CURSED, we meet Nimue, a young woman marked by dark magic and barely tolerated in her Druid village. Her plans to travel the world come to an end when the Red Paladin, a zealous religious order, attack her village, killing almost everyone. Her dying mother tasks Nimue with reuniting the Sword of Power with the famous sorcerer Merlin. The sword makes her a powerful warrior, and her desire for revenge only grows as she becomes the reluctant leader and defender of surviving Fey Folk. Nimue teams up with a young mercenary named Arthur and his half-sister Morgan as they attempt to deliver the Fey Folk to safety, stop the Red Paladins and a corrupt king, and determine the best destiny for the sword and, ultimately, for Nimue.
Is it any good?
With an exciting author-illustrator team, this highly anticipated book has some bright spots but fails to live up to the hype. The writing in Cursed is smooth and the action is well paced, so it's a decently entertaining read. An Arthurian retelling with a female lead is a fresh take that appeals to a wide audience. Nimue is the best developed character, but the Sword of Power has a dark influence on her, and it seems many of her choices are not hers alone. Other characters mostly fail to come alive on the page. Vaguely medieval but poorly defined world-building feels incomplete. Gaps in the story and perspective shifts between characters can feel disorienting. The romance between Arthur and Nimue lacks true chemistry. Excessive violence may turn off more sensitive readers.
The inclusion of illustrations in a young adult novel makes for a richer reading experience, but several of Miller's black-and-white illustrations are a challenge to decipher. The full-color art is striking, but some cause confusion. Nimue looks black in one, with curly hair, brown eyes, and dark skin, but is drawn with straight, light hair and skin in others. Critiques aside, readers will be pulled along in the story, and may genuinely enjoy this illustrated, female-led Arthurian reimagining.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Cursed. How did it affect you? Do you think it's necessary to the story? What do you think the author is trying to say about hatred and violence?
How does this compare to other versions of the King Arthur story you've seen or read? Do you prefer a more traditional adaptation or something like this? Why?
What was interesting or what surprised you about Nimue? What character strengths does she show?
- Author: Thomas Wheeler
- Illustrator: Frank Miller
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Adventures, Book Characters, Fairy Tales, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster
- Publication date: October 1, 2019
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 416
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: December 8, 2019
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.