So, I have been wanting to read A Curse so Dark and Lonely for so long. I don't know why it took me forever to get to it. Like seriously, YA Fantasy is one of my most read genres and is like my favorite fandom. Anyway, I just finished it as an audio book, and I absolutely LOVED it. So here is my take-aways.
Premise: A human girl with cerebral palsy in the real world, gets kidnapped to a magical fantasy realm to break the curse on the kingdom's prince. The prince is cursed by an evil sorceress because he slept with her and didn't mean anything by it. He is cursed to continuously repeat a three month "season" until he can find a girl to fall in love with him. At the end of the season he turns into horrible beast that has killed his family, his entire guard, save for the captain, and all of his castle staff and many regular people in the kingdom.
The female main character is Harper, an 18 year old girl with cerebral palsy. She is from Washington DC where she lives with her mother who is dying of cancer and her brother who is involved with some shady figures due to their absent father's past mistakes. You may or may not not know this about me, but I have been a special education teacher for 10 years and I have a secret weak spot for people with disabilities, especially kids and teenagers. The fastest way to get me to cry is to tell me a touching story about someone with a disability. I absolutely loved that Harper had cerebral palsy and while I do not personally have a disability so it is not really for me to say how well portrayed she was, I found her endearing and thought there seemed to be a good balance of focusing on her CP when it was relevant, but giving her traits and a personality aside from it. Of course it informs who she is as a person because it is something she had to deal with, but the story wasn't all about her having a disability, but the disability was also important enough to actually enhance the story.
The male main character is Rhen, cursed prince who has been reliving the same season of his life over and over. I liked Rhen, but I did not find him as compelling as Harper. Obviously he served as the "beast" in this story. And as expected he was a jerk at first and learned to be nicer throughout the story, but I found the pacing of his character growth to be inconsistent. The first half of the book I felt like he didn't grow at all, and then all of a sudden he was perfect by the end. I did feel for his character. He went through A LOT knowing it was his fault that his family was dead and his kingdom was failing. But I didn't always believe the romance between him and Harper because it felt too much like he was trying to break the curse, not actually falling in love.
Grey, the captain of Rhen's guard, was the most important supporting character. For a brief moment I though there might be a love triangle between him and Rhen and Harper, but it really was just a friendship. Which is great too! Not every male/female relationship has to be romantic. Though I was a bit disappointed because I LOVED Grey more than Rhen. He was an interesting character because he was honor bound to serve Rhen even when he didn't agree with him or even like him sometimes, but he was also kind and loyal and did seem to care about breaking the curse, not just for himself but for everyone. I am so excited to read book two because it focuses on Grey.
Side characters: I liked that Harper's family was a realistic picture of a family. I liked seeing LGBTQ+ representation in her brother that felt natural and believable. I was so sad that her mother was sick with cancer. I liked the people of Rhen's kingdom who slowly were becoming part of the main story. Overall I think the side characters were well done.
Plot: I thought the premise and plot were interesting. I did find the book dragged a little bit in the middle. I think there may have just been too much back and forth "will they?" "won't they?" for my taste. I was relatively certain that Harper would break the curse, so I think that took some of the tension out of it for me. The last chunk of the book, after Harper goes back to DC, but realizes she needs to go back to save Emberfall was probably my favorite part. I like when the characters are decisive about what they need to do.
Overall: I would give this book Four Stars. Not my most favorite book, but a very good and very enjoyable Beauty and the Beast retelling.