61 pages 2 hours read

Brigid Kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2019

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Summary and Study Guide


A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer (Bloomsbury YA, 2019) is a young adult fantasy novel based on the story of Beauty and the Beast that follows a girl from Washington, DC, and a prince from another world along a journey of love and loyalty. The book was a New York Times bestseller and a Goodreads Choice Awards finalist in 2019, and it received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. American author Brigid Kemmerer has written over a dozen novels for young adults, earning herself a RITA Award for Best Young Adult Romance from the Romance Writers of America. Currently, she lives with her family in the Baltimore area, where she writes full-time.

This guide follows the Bloomsbury YA 2019 edition of A Curse So Dark and Lonely.

Plot Summary

A Curse So Dark and Lonely is told through the alternating perspectives of Harper, a girl from modern-day Washington, DC, and Prince Rhen, heir to the throne of the kingdom of Emberfall. For the last five years, Prince Rhen has been under a curse that forces him to repeat the autumn of his 18th year, turning him into a bloodthirsty monster at the onset of winter. The curse will only be broken when he finds a girl to love him, and after over 300 failed attempts, the enchantress who placed the curse has declared this season shall be his last. If he does not break the curse, he will remain a monster forever, putting his subjects at the mercy of his attacks. In Washington, Harper lives in fear of the debt her father left when he ran away. Her brother shakes down people to earn the money to pay the debts and their mother’s medical bills, leaving Harper mostly on her own.

Each season, Rhen’s only surviving guardsman, Grey, retrieves a girl from Harper’s world for Rhen to woo in an attempt to break the curse. When Harper witnesses Grey kidnapping a girl, she attacks him and is brought to Emberfall instead. On arrival, Harper fights to get home and wants nothing to do with Rhen. After Rhen locks her in her room, Harper climbs out the window and leaves the palace grounds, finding strange men attacking a nearby town. The men are from a kingdom to the far northwest, whose queen has her sights on overtaking Emberfall. Determined to help a woman and her family, Harper enlists Rhen to get them rooms at the nearby inn and bring them food. All the while, Rhen protests, afraid of what his long absence has done to the people and what his sudden involvement might bring down upon them.

When the men from the northwest kingdom return, Harper claims to be a princess from a faraway land, here to secure an alliance with Emberfall to destroy the attacking queen. Her bravery impresses Rhen, who comes up with an idea to make Emberfall appear strong in hopes of scaring away the enemy forces. Over the next few weeks, Harper and Rhen work toward this goal, Rhen promising to ask the enchantress to return Harper home at the first opportunity. When the enchantress finally appears, she tortures Rhen, making Harper realize she can’t leave the kingdom at her mercy.

On a visit to a nearby city to gain support, Rhen and Harper grow close, both starting to question how they feel about the other. When they return to the palace, the enchantress visits Rhen to show him past images of himself as a monster destroying his people; after, Rhen starts to despair of either saving the kingdom or breaking the curse. The next time the enchantress appears, she tells Harper that her mother will die soon and that her brother is not well. In addition, she gives Grey the ability to cross between worlds at will, leaving Harper’s ability to get home up to him. Rhen orders Grey to take Harper back, even though it means the curse won’t be broken, but on Harper’s insistence, Grey promises to bring her back to Emberfall once she has checked on her family. With gems from Rhen, Harper pays off the creditors, and her mother passes, leaving Harper and her brother to grieve.

When Grey doesn’t appear at the appointed time, Harper frets that something has gone terribly wrong. Back in Emberfall, Rhen tries to kill himself before the monster takes hold, but he fails and begins to terrorize the kingdom. A badly wounded Grey arrives at Harper’s home, and while he recovers, the creditors arrive, forcing Grey to transport him, Harper, Harper’s brother, and her brother’s boyfriend to Emberfall. There, Harper gets through to Rhen’s monster, and together, they destroy the attacking army. The enchantress arrives, intending to use Rhen to destroy her enemies and gain power. Bargaining for Rhen’s life, Grey offers his services to the enchantress, and she accepts—only to move to kill Rhen. Harper jumps in front of the blade, taking the blow instead. Grey tackles and stabs the enchantress, reminding her that he has not sworn yet, and he uses the ability to jump worlds that she granted him to disappear to Harper’s world, where he should be able to kill her. Harper passes out.

Either because Harper broke the curse or because the enchantress is dead, Rhen returns to human form. Harper wakes several days later, and she and Rhen move forward into an uncertain relationship. Meanwhile, a chapter from Grey’s perspective reveals that he has learned he is the true heir to Emberfall’s throne. Knowing his presence would throw the kingdom into turmoil, he goes on the run.