A Curse So Dark and Lonely (Cursebreakers, #1) (2024)

Well, this was...something.

Like. This book is a Beauty and the Beast retelling, except take away the dope library and all the nice songs and France (okay yes I know the Disney version isn’t the original but I LIKE huge libraries and nice songs and France!!). Anyway take all that stuff, and replace it with scenes from gritty modern-day D.C. and blood and monsters and blood and oh my god SO MUCH VIOLENCE AND BLOOD.

And also a love triangle.

Following? No, not even slightly? That’s fair, and also me neither.

Basically, our protagonist, Harper, is a girl with a suuuuper tough life living in a high-crime area of current-day, real-life Washington, D.C. Her mom has cancer so she helps her brother make money by playing lookout while he beats the sh*t out of people for a loan shark. Also, Harper has cerebral palsy, and the rep for that (plus the relationship between her brother and his boyfriend, Noah) is far and away the best part of this book.

Unfortunately, we have so much more weird sh*t to wade through in this synopsis explanation alone.

While she’s playing lookout for her brother during one such life-necessitated crime spree, she gets kidnapped by some old-timey dude. This is Grey, the high commander something something of the kingdom Emberfall blah blah. Every year or moon-passage or sun-season or Insert Bullsh*t High Fantasy Term For Passage Of Time Here, Grey travels from the beautiful kingdom of Somewhere Not In Our Realm to our own Washington, D.C. (which is in a different...dimension? universe? world? I read this whole book and I’m not quite sure).

What does Grey do there, you might be asking? Go on a jaunty tour of the sights of America’s capital? Perhaps a stroll about the Smithsonian?

No, my dear boy. He captures an innocent woman. So that Rhen, the king or lord or something, can try to get that lady to fall in love with him, or something, to break a curse by which every season he turns into this giant ever-changing beast who kills everyone and destroys everything, or something. One of them is our protagonist, Harper, who is promptly not like other girls’d for not being...completely delighted with being kidnapped and taking to some drug-trip old-timey castle?

And somehow, it’s all downhill from there. (From what I can remember. I read this book seven months ago and even then I didn’t have the greatest understanding.)

Let’s get into some categories.


You may be tempted to think I am an idiot. (Even more so than usual, I mean.) Yes, I am aware that A Court of Thorns and Roses is also a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and therefore these two books are going to have some baseline similarities.


Rhen just...is Rhys. Earlier in this review I typed “Rhys” without thinking because they are the same. Grey is Tamlin (complete with traces of love triangle). Lilith, the sorceress who puts the curse on Rhen, is the parallel to the evil under-the-mountain lady from ACOTAR whose name I can’t remember -- down to the sexual assault of Rhen/Rhys as a form of torture and part of the curse. I know that the early versions of fairytales are darker than our current Disney versions and all, but I can say with confidence that that sh*t is not part of the original story.

Obviously it’s the same plotline, in broad strokes, because it’s a retelling of the same story, but the similarities go further. Here are more examples:

- Both Harper and Feyre regularly participate in illegal activities in order to provide for their families (pre-glorified kidnapping), which lands each of them in the situation that gets them taken to the beast figure’s castle.
- Once there, each has to decide whether to return to her family or become queen (ish) and save a kingdom.
- Each of them then discovers the power that lies within them, realizes they could become a ruler, blah blah blah cool cool cool all definitely new stuff.
- Both are supposedly feminist reads that are, in reality, deeply not-like-other-girls-y and only even remotely empowering to the female protagonist.
- And they both even have love triangles that are overwhelmingly similar!! Between Tamlin/Grey, the sort of original kidnapper and bona fide Nice Guy, and the fan favorite bad boy powerful king dude, Rhen/Rhys. And baby, love triangles did Not exist in Disney’s Beauty & the Beast.

But the love triangle isn’t even the worst part of the romance in this book. And like. How is that even possible.


Normally in Beauty & the Beast stories, there’s a degree of an important lil thing called CONSENT. Think back to the Disney cinematic masterpiece: Belle is never kept in the castle against her will. She agrees to stay in exchange for her father’s life. (Still f*cked up and manipulative, for sure, but we’re not here to unpack the ways that Disney messed all of us up.) In fact, in every iteration, the Beauty character agrees to stay with the Beast character.

Not in this one!!!

Harper is legitimately, violently kidnapped and taken to Consentless Storybook Land, where she never stops trying to go home. She tries to escape multiple times. She never agrees to stay. She is kept AGAINST HER WILL in a STRANGE LAND while her MOM is DYING of CANCER and her brother’s LIFE IS AT RISK.

So sorry, I’m not exactly in the mood for the Stockholm syndrome-ass romance being pushed here.

Like, here’s Rhen outlining the swoon-worthy romantic framework we’re dealing with here: “‘Grey has grown skilled at finding girls who have no family, no one to miss them.’ I pause and look at her. ‘Often there is no trickery to it -- they come willingly, with little more than the promise of a safe place to sleep. You, I suspect, would not have been lured so easily.’”

Let’s unpack some of the ways that’s legitimately disgusting:
- taking advantage of women with no shelter or security and taking them to ANOTHER WORLD where they will LIKELY DIE and with near certainty NOT RETURN HOME EVEN IF THEY ASK
- “often” there’s no trickery
- but it does involve LURING WOMEN IN NEED
- Harper COULDN’T BE LURED, so instead they KIDNAPPED HER

And there’s more stuff on the horizon! Because being harder to lure than a rodent unfamiliar with the concept of mousetraps isn’t the only way Harper isn’t like other girls.


Let’s just get into it: I counted 10+ instances of the not like other girls trope. I am now going to share a selection of those instances with you.

1) “Most of the girls Grey drags from her world won’t touch a blade or a bridle, and instead gravitate to the finery found within the lushly outfitted wardrobes inside Ironrose Castle.” Cue a whole passage about how tough and badass and cool she is, compared to every other (freshly kidnapped, but let’s just move right past that) girl in human existence who is a personality-less sack of lovesickness from the get-go.

2) “Usually the girls are charmed, even delighted, but Harper looks like she wants to turn and walk right back out of here.” The language used around the multitudinous kidnappings that are nonstop referenced in this book never stops being weird.

3) “For a different girl, the best part of this bedroom would be the closet.” Women be shopping, am I right? We love to resort to baseline gender stereotypes in order to characterize a protagonist by contrasting her to women at large rather than by use of any legitimate writing tactics!!!

4) “‘She is interesting.’ My eyes flick up. That’s not a word I’ve ever heard Grey use to describe one of the girls.” A lot of the time, I’m kind of immune to the not-like-other-girls bullsh*t, but sometimes one instance of it is so f*cked up that I am suddenly woken from the coma of my existential fatigue. This is one of those moments.

No other girl is interesting. If women, across the board, are just not Interesting to you, you’re f*cking sexist and gross! That’s it! Bare minimum, the characters in this book and the situation at the core of it are sexist and gross!

5) “She accepts the lie readily, but I do not like it. Earning this moment feels a thousand times more satisfying than plying women with pretty falsehoods and empty promises.” It must be lovely to be the one woman this f*cker decides he’s okay with treating as a person.

6) “I have had over three hundred women to practice on. I should have known better.” Women are, again -- and I cannot stress this enough -- NOT people, but they are: practice!

7) “Did you get naked with these hundreds of women, too?” Fun stuff.

8) “I forgot that she is not some simple girl who sparks intrigue with every other word from her tongue.” Some. Simple. Girl. Also, that sentence is from a literal paragraph after the one I quoted before it! Nice.

Maybe even more overwhelming than all of these instances is the fact that just about everything Harper does and is and says has to be contrasted with Girls At Large. Her familiarity with horses? Not like other girls. Playing cards with Grey? Not like other girls. Smacking Rhen across his stupid dumb consentless face? LIKE NO OTHER WOMAN IN RECORDED HISTORY.

By changing this story so it isn’t just One Girl (Beauty) who shows up at the Beast’s abode, and rather it’s HUNDREDS OF GIRLS, the author seems to have also thought that we needed reminders at every turn that Harper isn’t like any of them.

It’s f*cking exhausting.


Liberal inclusion of the not like other girls trope is, unfortunately, not the only gross sexist thing found in this book. And I’m not just talking about how consentless the whole thing is!

Because holy gender roles, Batman, is this thing...gender role-y.


“He selected ten guardsmen from those who applied. [...] To my surprise, Zo was one Grey chose -- and the only female.” ONE. OUT. OF. TEN. Finally a feminist read, am I right?

“The ladies of the castle have gone to work to make things more festive.” So glad The Women are finally getting to the important, non-stereotypically feminine work. Oh wait.

This line, also, just doesn’t sit well with me: “The tight fabric veiling the lower halves of their faces turns them all androgynous -- which is somehow intimidating.” Call me crazy, but I kinda fail to see what’s so intimidating about...androgyny. Am not creeped out by genderlessness, personally.

But don’t worry. It’s not only female characters, by means of being flat and uncharacterized beyond feminine roles, who are a nonstop barrel of Terrible. Because our main dude is also that.


Rhen is essentially portrayed as this tortured, tragic figure, forced to do bad deeds for the greater good. Considering the sheer number of terrible things he’s done -- kidnapping women on the reg, having a monster alter ego who is a nonstop Killing The Innocents machine, destroying his kingdom and also not ever doing his job even once even by accident -- we, as readers, have to buy this story. In order to even tolerate this sparkly eyed rogue, we have to believe that he is only bad because he Has To Be.

But uh...that characterization doesn’t add up? Like even a little. Take this gem of a thought, for example: “I once thought the monstrous destruction was the worst part of the curse, but I’ve long since learned that it’s not. It’s this, the repeated humiliation and punishment.”

If Rhen was tortured by what he was doing, maybe it’d be easier to like him. But he feels very little guilt or regret. Instead, he is very much like “IT’S NOT MY FAULT,” all the time forever. And I get that’s what I’m supposed to believe.

But I’m just saying, it doesn’t exactly scream Good Guy to react to your responsibility for the death of your loved ones by pitying yourself.


In addition to the various aforementioned not-my-favorite writing tactics, this book is often...sloppy. And I read an ARC, so maybe some of this changed, but I got taken out a few times by little things that bugged me.

Like the fact that Harper’s family is so poor that loan sharks are showing up at the door and her brother, Jake, didn’t have a dollar to give them...but somewhere in there he bought a new phone. Or that there’s a zero word chapter. Or that one paragraph switches to a POV that is completely different from the entire rest of the book. Or that none of the guard characters ever sleep.

Little things. But again, these may have changed.


On, oh, maybe page fourteen of this book, I realized something. That Something was that the names in this fantasy castle fairytale old times world are a f*cking delight. Everything has the most ridiculous, overdone, perfect name in the history of the universe.

I wrote down every single one. I did not even exclude the ones that seem less funny than the others. Here they are, for your reading pleasure.

All the names of places (which sound like names of fairy villages I would’ve brainstormed at 11 after constructing a stack of pebbles in my backyard for teensy mythical creatures to move into):
Emberfall, Ironrose, Wildthorne Valley, Hutchins Forge, Blackrock Plains, Silvermoon Harbor, Verin, Syhl Shallow, Willminton

All the names of characters (in the fantasy part) (relish all these normal names with one letter changed):
Rhen, Grey, Evalyn, Coale, Bastian, Freya, Lilith, Dahlia, Davin, Marko, Karis, Olivia, Edgar, Dara, Petor, Zo, Mave, Micah, Leylan, Dustan, Landon


We’ve reached the “normal” section of this review, where I stop yelling about specific things or offensive things and instead yell about actual book things. Like the characters, and how I felt nothing for them even once even at all over the whole course of this book. Or the fact that the twist was very predictable.

(I don’t even really remember the twist anymore.)


Still, there were some good things. In fact, there were precisely three of them:

1) This was fun and quick, which is a real shock considering it’s long boi. I read it in like a day or something. (And then proceeded to not review it for seven months.)
2) The cerebral palsy rep in this is by far the best part of the whole thing. It is the single most unique, interesting, and carefully and thoughtfully done aspect. If I read the next book (is there a next book?), it will be because of it.
3) Surprisingly, this gets marginally better as it goes along. I went from laughing regularly, prompting my roommate to ask me “Is that a this-book-is-funny laugh or this-book-sucks laugh?” (it was the latter), to not usually laughing, and instead occasionally scoffing. Progress.

Bottom line: Apparently this book worked for a lot of people. Maybe it will work for you. For me, it was a nonstop rollercoaster ride of Mess.


if you liked A Court of Thorns and Roses, you will really like this book.

I did not like A Court of Thorns and Roses.

review 2 come / 1.5 stars



i don't care if it's 500 pages long and my midterms are fast approaching, i'm reading it RIGHT NOW

thanks to Bloomsbury for the ARC!

A Curse So Dark and Lonely (Cursebreakers, #1) (2024)


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