by Brigid Kemmerer
Series: Cursebreakers #1
Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Publication Date: January 29, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Fall in love, break the curse.
Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year, Prince Rhen, the heir of Emberfall, thought he could be saved easily if a girl fell for him. But that was before he turned into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. Before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.
Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, Harper learned to be tough enough to survive. When she tries to save a stranger on the streets of Washington, DC, she's pulled into a magical world.
Break the curse, save the kingdom.
Harper doesn't know where she is or what to believe. A prince? A curse? A monster? 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.
I like Beauty and the Beast retellings, and this book kept popping up on my radar, so I was excited when my library hold first came in. Unfortunately, this one missed the mark for me.
I’ll start out with one of my favorite parts of the story. Rather than there being one woman to break the curse, there’s instead a Groundhog Day-like aspect to the story. The castle (and everyone in it) are trapped in a repeating cycle, forced to relive the same three-ish months over and over. Everything – from the music being played to the flowers to the food being served – is replicated day by day. At the end of the cycle (or when Rhen dies) everything resets, and Grey, Rhen’s sole remaining guard, is given the opportunity to kidnap another girl that might break the curse.
That’s right, kidnaps. With most Beauty and the Beast retellings, the non-beast protagonist usually has some sort of choice in going to the Beast’s place, even when it’s a rather pointless choice between that or death, or doing it to save a relative, or something like that. Harper’s straight up kidnapped from modern-day Washington, D.C. Having grown up reading lots of 80s-era portal fantasies, I really wanted to like this aspect of the book, but it felt off to me. Sure, Harper tries to drag Rhen and Grey into something resembling the 21st century, but it’s all very superficial.
And here we get to my main issue with the book: Harper. The level of not like ~other girls~-ness is just, too damn high. She likes horses, not dresses. She’s frankly nauseated by the piles of jewels in her room. She doesn’t react the same as every single other one of the hundreds (hundreds!) of girls they’ve kidnapped. It’s never-ending and exhausted. It’s not that I necessarily disagreed with her actions, just that everything had to be viewed from the lens of how she was SO MUCH BETTER than any other woman. The only thing I liked about her was the cerebral palsy rep, which felt very well done.
As for the other MC, Rhen was somehow even more annoying. After however many repetitions, he was still ridiculously self-centered, and he took the whole tortured, forced-to-be-evil nonsense to the extreme. It took a comment from Harper for him to realize that the point of the curse was not just to torment him but to topple his country. Too much of his (limited) character growth felt like he was only making the change for Harper, that he was somehow being redeemed by Harper and, oof, it didn’t sit well with me.
“My father once said we are all dealt a hand at birth. A good hand can ultimately lose—just as a poor hand can win—but we must all play the cards fate deals. The choices we face may not be the choices we want, but they are choices nonetheless.”
That’s not to say the book is a complete loss, even though I didn’t care for the main characters. The plot is standard fantasy fare, and there are some good moments. I loved Harper and Grey’s card playing sessions, for instance.
So, overall, while the plot and setting were fine, the characters didn’t work for me.