Are fairytales stories of darkness or hope? That is a question that I’ve never really dwelled on until reading this book. Disney has created an expectancy of childhood favorites and happily ever afters, while the average retelling tends to reflect the more brutal nature of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. Keeping that in mind, I want to dive into my review of this gender-bent Beauty and the Beast retelling!
TW/CW: mentions of abuse, (sort of) animal cruelty
Thank you so much to Penguin Teen for an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review! Quotes may not appear in finished copy.
Merit Cravan refused to fulfill her obligation to marry a prince, leading to a fairy godling’s curse. She will be forced to live as a beast forever, unless she agrees to marry a man of her mother’s choosing before her eighteenth birthday.
Tevin Dumont has always been a pawn in his family’s cons. The prettiest boy in a big family, his job is to tempt naïve rich girls to abandon their engagements, unless their parents agree to pay him off. But after his mother runs afoul of the beast, she decides to trade Tevin for her own freedom.
Now, Tevin and Merit have agreed that he can pay off his mother’s debt by using his con-artist skills to help Merit find the best match . . . but what if the best match is Tevin himself?
Curses is honestly one of the most unexpected novels I’ve ever read. I was expecting rich, elaborate schemes, a looming castle, and tense romance. Instead, I got a lighthearted romp through picturesque European kingdoms and sweet friendships. Call me crazy* but I would genuinely describe this as My Lady Jane meets Shrek. That sounds shocking. I know. It might not get better but bear with me anyways.
*tbh if you’ve been here for at least a week then you’ve probably already called me worse than crazy. i just wanted to officially give y’all permission to do it ya know-
Both Merit and Tevin are pretty cliche characters. However, the atmosphere makes their relatively shallow character arcs okay. It feels right for a little bit of flirtatiousness here, and a little bit of weightless banter there. That’s not to say that they both completely lack depth; Merit has to deal with being a beast and gaining her mother’s approval while Tevin is dealing with abuse from his parents. Their romance was a whirlwind of looks to love which really threw me off. But I guess that’s the Disney approach working its magic.
“Love had to be a gift freely given, something unknowable to someone who only calculated the cost of certain things.”
Back to my little comparison. You see, the setting of this book takes place largely in adorable towns and comfortable mansions, with some pretty landscapes along the way. The writing style, the banter, the characters, and even the plot were all unpredictably wacky. I never knew quite what would happen next, only that it would be quite entertaining and perhaps self-aware. So now you see why I bring up My Lady Jane. But you may be asking: what does a Beauty and the Beast period drama sort of novel have to do with this?
The classiest movie of all time (excepting, perhaps, the sheer genius of The Bee Movie) has a very unique storyline. Curses has the same sort of fresh, fun, slightly insane feeling to it as well! For example, I was pleasantly surprised to see references to lesser-known fairytales, such as the story of the two cursed sisters where one speaks with toads and snakes and the other jewels and diamonds. Also! The whole “i’m not in love with you but i need to help you find true love” plotline was so well-done. Also also, stopping a wedding. You know, the more I think about it the more I’m convinced that Curses is secretly a Shrek retelling in disguise*.
*not really but also…what if…?
I thought that the friendships and family relationships were a nice touch! There wasn’t a lot of petty drama or easily preventable miscommunications, just a lot of loyalty and understanding and love. It was actually rather refreshing. I also* think that this is a book that will appeal well to the older middle-grade audience and the young YA one, considering its content!
“Couples continued to dance and eddy around them, as if they were a boulder in a river – timeless, steady, and unmovable.”
*okay believe it or not but i’ve already edited out SEVERAL iterations of “also” because i guess that’s my favorite word now. clearly, i do not have very long, connected thought trains.
Curses is a uniquely fun adventure that the genre of YA retellings desperately needs. On the other hand, I think I was personally blindsided by how upbeat it ended up being. It felt very much like taking a nostalgia train to the days of watching Disney movies as a child, and just accepting whatever crazy plot point was thrown in. With all of that in mind, I’m going to be totally transparent and do something I’ve never done before. My personal rating for this book is 3 stars, mostly because I was in the mood for a more serious, faithful retelling. However, I’m also going to give this 4 stars, because screw my mood, this was a really well-executed interpretation of the Beauty and the Beast story. I don’t know if that’s allowed in book world but I’m doing it anyways!
So that’s it! What are your thoughts on the different tones of fairytale retellings?