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Cursed

Book review by
Mandie Caroll, Common Sense Media
Cursed Book Poster Image
Fierce woman leads reimagined, violent Arthurian tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Fantasy meant to entertain. Could inspire readers to seek out classic versions of the King Arthur tale and compare with this reimagined one. 

Positive Messages

When you have safety and access to resources, aid those in need of help and protection. We don't always get to choose our circumstances, but we must still try to make good choices. Women can be strong and capable leaders. That said, characters must often choose among bad options and they engage in extreme violence, so positive messages tend to be marred by the dark and ominous themes in this story.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Nimue is a worthy role model in some respects: She's fierce, determined, and selfless at times, but she's also driven by dark forces, including violent revenge. Morgan, Arthur, and Merlin all have admirable moments, as well, though mostly they feel one-dimensional. The Fey Folk, communities that practice magic and include human-animal creatures (some have tusks or deer antlers), are persecuted and could presumably be a symbol for differences that often divide the real world like skin color or religion. All characters presumed white.

Violence

Gratuitous violence and gore. Red Paladins, a religious order, burn and stab Fey people, including children, sometimes described in great detail. Several scenes of close combat with swords means blood-soaked stabbings, severed appendages, bodies, and heads. Torture is described briefly and the threat of torture (including of a child) is present other places.  

Sex

One passionate kiss between main characters. In another scene, these characters bathe together, naked, in a hot spring.

Language

Sparse use of "s--t," "ass," etc.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters occasionally drink wine but not to excess.

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 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."

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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 woman 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 surprised you about Nimue? What character strengths does she show?

Book details

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