ARC Review – ‘A Curse So Dark and Lonely’ by Brigid Kemmerer

Title: A Curse So Dark and Lonely
Author:Brigid Kemmerer
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publication DetailsBloomsbury Australia on 4th February, 2019
Word/Page Count: 476 pages (paperback)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)



In a lush, contemporary fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Brigid Kemmerer gives readers another compulsively readable romance perfect for fans of Marissa Meyer.

Fall in love, break the curse. 

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper Lacy. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom. 

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But 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.

After seeing the proliferation of glowing 5-star reviews, I was ecstatic to receive an advance copy of A Curse So Dark and Lonely and began it with cautious optimism. Could it really be as gloriously spellbinding as people were saying? I’m here to tell you that this book deserves ALL THE STARS x infinity.


Fairytale retellings are a dime a dozen in today’s YA market, especially those reinterpreting Beauty & the Beast, but I believe that A Curse So Dark and Lonely is going to be THE definitive retelling for many, or at the very least it will top the list of retelling favorites. This is a masterclass in doing it right – the storyline takes inspiration from B&tB without being slavishly devoted to recycling every plot beat, the author puts a wholly original spin that sets her story apart from the others by combining modern times with the fantasy world and taking the opportunity to add diversity plus putting in the work to build a believable and well-developed romance.

For those of you hoping for something along the lines of the library gifting scene from the Disney movie, there is no equivalent here as it doesn’t fit the storyline being told – and that’s part of what I really appreciate about this book. Retellings can sometimes overly rely on the source material to provide resonance and depth, but A Curse So Dark and Lonely effortlessly stands on its own by doings the heavy lifting to make you appreciate THESE specific characters and their budding relationship without needing nostalgia to endear you to them. The author uses the bare bones of the concept of a cursed prince in an enchanted castle doomed to turn into a beast forever if he doesn’t find true love, then fleshes it out with amazing world-building, stunning new twists and lovable original characters.


Harper is the Belle analogue and a fantasy-based heroine like no other I’ve read before. I am so impressed that the author decided to include cerebral palsy representation and fully committed to how this affects Harper and other people’s perception of her without being excessively maudlin. As stated in the author’s note, CP is simply part of Harper’s life and doesn’t define her – having this condition may affect the full extent of her ability to respond in certain situations, but it certainly doesn’t keep Harper from being a certified badass who is way more capable than I would be in her shoes! I loved the little character details like Harper being bribed into attending dancing lessons (which would assist with her mobility) with the lure of horse-back riding, which conveniently happens to be a great skill to have in the pre-industrial world of Emberfall! It’s details like that which make Harper a well-rounded and fully realized character.

I loved her courage and compassion from saving the girl being kidnapped at the start to providing food to those in need in Emberfall. Sometimes a heroine may come across as too-good-to-be true and all saintly and martyr-like, but in Harper’s case, she’s practical and down-to-earth and if she sees people who need help, her knee-jerk reaction is to jump in feet-first. Enchanted castle overflowing with food that’s replenished everyday? Why wouldn’t you share that!


Rhen is…a revelation, honestly. I was braced for a cruel and contemptuous male lead, but I didn’t see that in him at all. Arrogant, yes, entitled, definitely, but very unusually for me I fell deeply in love with the male lead just as much as the female lead! Normally I root for and fawn over the heroine, while grudgingly conceding the hero is perhaps worthy of her affections (more often than not I don’t even get that far, some love interests are honestly the worst), but Rhen, my god. ❤ The epitome of tortured and brooding, but with good reason, and I really felt that he was making the best of a terrible situation. I sympathized with him just as much as I did Harper, and trust me, that was a huge surprise. Of course kidnapping is the definition of problematic, but Rhen was cursed to turn into a Beast towards the end of his season and wreak havoc while slaughtering innocents, and I couldn’t blame him for deciding that upending one modern girl’s life for the chance to end the curse and safeguard his kingdom was the only course he could take.

Can I also say that intelligence is sexy and I am such a huge fan that Prince Rhen is actually well-versed in politics and a savvy strategist! He mentions that he was involved in meetings with his father on issues of statecraft at the age of 10 and had his own advisors by 16, and that really shows. It’s so refreshing to have a male lead whose main character trait is being clever and several steps ahead of everyone else.


Harper and Rhen each have chapters from their point-of-view and I have to heap praise on the author for developing a distinct voice for each of them. I was never lost in the transition from one mindset to the other, and I marveled at how authentic Rhen sounded – he may only be physically 18 years old, but he lived through 327 years of the curse and the experience imbued him with a bitter maturity and jaded cynicism that was reflected in his thinking and speech. Sometimes I read books with fae or vampire characters who are supposed hundreds of years old and still act like immature teenagers, which really throws me out (I can suspend disbelief to accept supernatural creatures, but the internal logic of that universe needs to be consistent), but Rhen came across as someone shaped by years of hardship and grief, barely clinging to hope.

Grey is the Guard Commander, although he is the only guard left alive as our story begins. He doesn’t have any POV chapters, but he certainly makes an impact! I’m fairly certain Grey will be a fan favorite because he is snarky, competent and intriguingly layered. You couldn’t ask for someone more loyal and dedicated to his duty, but instead of being a one-note guard dog character, Grey’s character shows so much nuance and he turns out to have his own secrets and tumultuous past. I love that he isn’t just a shadow at the heels of our couple, merely acting as Rhen’s wingman, but his relationship with Rhen and growing bond with Harper is given a lot of page-space and development. I was wary this was going to turn into a surprise love-triangle and thank goodness it didn’t; I really appreciated that Harper was able to have meaningful interactions with Grey and several other minor characters instead of the focus being overwhelmingly on romance.


I need to acknowledge something that irritated me a little in the beginning, namely that Harper’s courage in attempting to escape is lauded as impressive not just because she goes to unbelievable lengths to escape captivity (scaling a castle wall!!!) but because apparently in 327 years, none of the other girls ever showed any glimmer of resistance. :/ Oh no, they were all charmed by the fabulous wardrobe with all the gorgeous dresses and shiny jewels, and perfectly happy to be wined and dined by Rhen. This makes sense for the girls that were taken in Emberfall, especially since it appears some of them came willingly at the Prince’s request, but Grey has been kidnapping girls from our world for YEARS and I couldn’t believe that Harper was the only one to put up a fight. Not all of the girls were taken in traumatic circumstances like Harper, given that Grey’s MO seems to be to get them drunk and pliable (oof, that does not sound good, and honestly, I’m surprised there’s not more criticism of Grey from reviews I’ve read, all the blame is put on Rhen but Grey is equally culpable), but after waking up as a prisoner in an enchanted castle, no matter how gilded the cage, SURELY at least one of the girls would’ve tried to escape.


However the book redeems itself after that point by introducing minor characters like Freya and Zo who both connect with Harper in different ways (Freya in a maternal manner and Zo as a friend). After championing Harper for being feisty and fighting back unlike the other girls, I was relieved to see that Freya’s warm-hearted nature and softer demeanor was depicted in a complimentary light and even inspired Harper to see that being vulnerable and opening up wasn’t a weakness. Zo was just pure fun and allowed Harper to be a giggly teen later in the book, giving her an outlet after all the drama and doom & gloom of the curse.

Aside from the disability representation with Harper, there’s also a minor gay romance depicted with her brother Jake and his boyfriend Noah. It isn’t a big part of the book, but I enjoyed the casual diversity and the unexpected depth given to those characters. I may sound like a broken record at this point, but I truly appreciate minor characters being given development and significant interactions with the protagonist. It helps to avoid the story becoming claustrophobic and makes the world-building shine.


I could seriously go on for pages longer talking about everything I loved about this book, but I need to stop gushing about it so you can go out and order it for yourself because spoiler alert – THIS IS AMAZING. ❤ An early candidate for my favorite read of 2019, tbh! If you’ve already read this, please comment below because my mind is consumed by these characters and I need to engage about them some more!

PS. am I the only one who kept misreading the title as A Curse So Dark and Lovely? Just me? Okay, never mind…

Pros: fantastic world-building, amazing characters, swoonworthy romance, funny banter, lyrical writing

Cons: ‘not like other girls’ aspect, cliche seductress villain

Personal Rating: 5 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.







Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

20 thoughts on “ARC Review – ‘A Curse So Dark and Lonely’ by Brigid Kemmerer

    • I’m going to be screaming about this one from the rooftops for a while to come! and huh, that’s so weird, The Beast’s Heart was released a while ago as I picked it up as a cover buy (it’s sooo pretty), but I can see it’s being re-released next month. I wonder why!

      I haven’t read it yet, but I mean to do so at some stage when I have more time as I’m interested in seeing from the Beast’s pov. but I think it’ll have to be a long way into the future because otherwise I’ll be comparing it to this book and nothing will measure up!


    • there’s been a big marketing push with this one, and I’m so glad that’s the case as I lucked out in getting a copy. ❤ so so good, like, I'll probs buy it for people's birthdays, I want to make my friends read it, haha.

      (thank you! I felt so dumb every time I would mistakenly say LOVELY. I think it's partly the font, but also I think of Robert Frost's 'the woods are lovely dark and deep')


  1. Pingback: My [Updated] Bookish Opinions Tag – Reading By Starlight

  2. I’m so glad you enjoyed this book, I did too! I think all the criticisms you bring up are totally fair ones. I had a couple of my own (if memory serves) but I don’t think I really caught the “not like other girls”-ness, but you’re absolutely right.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m happy that this book is getting so much praise! 😀 I feel like I should’ve deducted more points for the campy villainess, but I loved the three main characters so much that it didn’t bother me as much as it normally would. It’s strange because ‘the woman scorned’ is one of my pet hates as a motivation, but everything else is so sublime that I can’t get annoyed about it, lol.

      To be fair, the ‘not like other girls’ bit was only a couple lines long (when it was first explained that she was the only girl never to resist and I think Rhen & Grey referred to it once or twice), it wasn’t an all-pervasive running arc, thank goodness!

      But the really strange thing to me is that in the reviews I’ve read, not one person ever blames Grey for kidnapping Harper, just Rhen! It doesn’t compute…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am in love with this review. You touch upon all the things of importance and really convinced me, that if I hadn’t already read ACSDAL, I’d needed to pick it up ASAP. I love this review of this book, it really does the book justice.

    Sorry, I’m just over here gushing over this epic very well written review, don’t mind me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: ARC Review – ‘Call It What You Want’ by Brigid Kemmerer | dreamingofcats

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