An ode to… the Cursebreakers series

So strap in everybody because the last book in Brigid Kemmerer’s Cursebreakers series was just released and I just finished it. As you may expect – this is me – I. Have. Opinions.

Before we get to that, if you haven’t discovered Brigid Kemmerer, you should.  I have liked every book of hers I’ve read – and she writes both contemporary and fantasy Young Adult novels. Her most recent series, Cursebreakers includes the three novels: A Curse So Dark and Lonely, A Heart So Fierce and Broken, and A Vow So Bold and Deadly.

If you want to read them and don’t want to be spoiled, STOP READING NOW.  I am probably going to spoil each of the books, so if you don’t want that – go get them and read them and then come back.  Starting…. Now.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely is one hell of a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  I think it is my favorite in the series.  

So, the Prince of Emberfall, Rhen, has been cursed by an evil enchantress. The curse is a vicious cycle and there is only one way to break it. If Rhen, and the Captain of his Guard (well his only guard, really) Grey, fail to do so, the cycle starts again. It is clear at the beginning that Rhen and Grey have been in this vicious cycle for a really, really long time to break the curse.   

The curse goes like this, autumn begins and Grey has to go to the world of modern-day Washington, DC to find a girl that can fall in love with Rhen. When she fails to do so, Rhen and Grey start the cycle over again – staying forever 18(ish), the ages they were when they were cursed.  What is the curse, you ask?  Well if the girl doesn’t fall in love with Rhen, then he turns into a dragon-type beast.  And then goes on a murderous rampage (remember how I said there were no other guards.  Yeah, dead.  And Rhen’s family.  Well, also dead.  From the beast.  It’s very gruesome.)  Also, I should probably mention that in addition to the beast-curse, Rhen is constantly tortured by the evil enchantress, whose goal is to rule Emberfall with Rhen at her side. She has no qualms about completely torturing him (and we’re not talking like moody stares, we’re talking like waterboarding-type torture {which happens mostly off page} and magical torture) to get what she wants.  Therefore, Rhen and Grey have been living with a lot of torture, death, and not a lot of hope.  But, they have each other.  And that’s something at least.

In the current round of the cycle, Grey accidentally takes Harper, a brave somewhat reckless teen, back to Emberfall.  She tries immediately to get back to Washington DC, which she can’t.  She’s stuck in Emberfall.  Eventually she builds a friendship with Rhen and Grey and even though she can’t promise to break the spell, she’ll help in any way she can.  And in the end, she does fall in love with Rhen (even though she does have chemistry and feelings for Grey) and breaks the spell.  Except during the final battle with the enchantress, a secret is revealed that Rhen is not the heir to the throne because (to paraphrase one of my favorite movie gurus) there is another.  At the climax of the battle when Grey and the enchantress are alone, she tells him that he is the rightful heir to the throne, having been the product of the affair between Rhen’s father, the King, and one of the last sorceresses in Emberfall.  He kills her and attempts to process the information.  So… he’s the real heir and he has magic.  So what’s a loyal, brave guard to do.  Well, run away, of course.

Thus begins book 2, A Heart So Fierce and Broken.  Rhen is paranoid and obsessive about the threat to this throne.  Who is the heir?  Where is the heir?  Why has the heir not come forward? Also, where is Grey?  Why has he not returned from his battle with the enchantress?  Is Grey even still alive?  Is the enchantress dead?  He and Harper continue their relationship but it is difficult given all these unanswered questions.  

Grey, on the other hand, has run away and is pretending to be a stable boy to avoid confronting his brother, Rhen.  He doesn’t want the job of King and would prefer to never mention it to anyone.  However, it gets out that he knows who the heir is so when he’s eventually captured by the new Royal Guards and is delivered to Rhen, he has a choice to make.  When he refuses to tell Rhen who the heir is, Rhen cajoles, pleads, and begs Grey to reconsider and when Grey stands firm, Rhen resorts to whipping to get the answer.  Everyone, including Rhen, is disgusted and horrified by his behavior, except Grey who has seen Rhen’s worst side.  Harper helps to free Grey, who uses his newly-discovered magic to aid them in the escape thereby announcing that he is, in fact, the true heir to the throne.

Meanwhile, a princess of the neighboring kingdom, Lia Mara, has been visiting Rhen, hoping to establish peace and trade between their two kingdoms.  Since she’s apparently the only pacifist in her country, Syhl Shallow, having a bloodthirsty and war-mongering Queen for a mother and a sister who is being groomed to take over, Rhen is immediately suspicious of her overtures and ends up holding her as a prisoner. When Grey escapes, she joins him and they flee. 

Eventually Harper decides to go back to Rhen to try to save him from himself and his worst tendencies while Grey and Lia Mara flee to her homeland.  There’s a lot of politicking and stuff and along the way, they fall in love.  Eventually, Lia Mara (sort of accidentally) kills her mother and is awarded with the crown of Syhl Shallow.  While she wants peace, she knows that her kingdom needs help and convinces Grey to challenge his brother for the throne.  Grey sends a letter to Rhen telling him he has 60 days to surrender and begs Rhen to do it.  Grey says he doesn’t want to have to go to war but he will if Rhen won’t see reason.  Unfortunately for Grey (and everyone else), Rhen doesn’t feel like he has any choices.  See, the enchantress isn’t dead.  And maybe a little pissed off about the trying-to-kill-her thing.  She still wants to rule (with Rhen) and is torturing him again.  This time she has more leverage: Harper and Grey.  So what’s Rhen to do other than give the enchantress what she wants?

That cliffhanger made waiting for book 3 quite unbearable.      

So at the start of A Vow So Bold and Deadly, both Emberfall and Syhl Shallow are preparing for war.  Rhen and Harper aren’t speaking to each, both mad about how the other dealt with the details surrounding Grey’s capture and escape.  Also, Rhen is trying to shield everyone from knowing that the enchantress is back and torturing him again.  He thinks he has no choice but to fight.  Eventually, Rhen and Harper reconcile and he finally admits the truth.  After that, the enchantress feels like she has no choice but to come out of hiding and just go to town.  Almost everyone in the castle is killed even though Rhen tells them all to flee.  Harper barely makes it out with her life and doesn’t know where to turn.  She wants to save Rhen but the only person she thinks will help her is Grey.  So off she goes.

Life for Lia Mara and Grey isn’t so much better.  I mean, they love each other and they are honest with each other, but that’s about it.  Syhl Shallow-ians (ites? Not sure what the plural is) are still the war-mongering, bloodthirsty people they always were and don’t understand their new Queen’s commitment to peace.  And they hate Grey, seeing him as the enemy (he is an Emberfall-ian) and he has magic, which has been historically seen as a no-no in Syhl Shallow.  She struggles with leadership and he struggles with finding his place.  There’s a lot of politics in this.

Harper arrives and Grey reluctantly agrees to kill the enchantress, not giving much hope to anyone that he has any feelings for his brother, and off they go.  Blah, blah, blah, they go back to Emberfall and manage to finally, actually kill the enchantress.  And for the part that really surprised me, Rhen yields to his Grey.  Grey becomes King and Rhen bows out.  Eventually, they’re able to find common ground, remember the care they had for each other and with the blessing and encouragement from Lia Mara and Harper start to bond as brothers.  

The End.  There’s more of course.  In trying to keep this post from becoming a tome, I’ve left out some of the other cool characters so you should definitely read the series even though I’ve essentially spilled the beans on everything. (Also, I think I failed at keeping this a short post.  Sorry, not sorry.)  

So, I’m going to start with the statement that I am Team Rhen, all the way.  It should come as no surprise given how biased my plot summaries come out.  I can’t decide why I like Rhen so much – whether he’s just a more interesting character, whether I just am one of those people who loves characters from first novels and don’t really like characters introduced in later volumes, or whether I just really loved A Curse So Dark and Lonely and was only mildly interested in A Heart So Fierce and Broken.  Well, whatever the reason.  Team Rhen.

So let’s dig in.  I find Harper and Rhen to be such interesting and complex characters.  I mean Grey’s whole shtick – the hero avoiding his destiny – has been done (Aragorn, anyone?) and isn’t so exciting.  What is more exciting is a character dealing with the fallout from one serious mistake (after a line of selfish, self-centered behaviors ingrained in him by a selfish, self-centered role model) which includes serious PTSD.  All the while trying to hold on to the people most important to him and keep his kingdom together.  I think there is a lot to be said for that.  Running away to avoid responsibility and not admit the truth?  Dull.  Coming to terms with the truth after falling in love?  Also, dull.  Making mistakes, deadly ones, and learning to overcome?  Intriguing.  Coming to terms with your life being a lie?  Incredibly intriguing.  Eventually giving up your life because it’s the right thing to do? Amazing.  All the while dealing with PTSD and debilitating fear of the talents of your replacement?  Seriously, sign me up.  And then putting all of it aside to bond with your brother.  Catnip!

It would be fair to say I have other thoughts about the happily-ever-after that Grey seems to get and the more realistic ending for Rhen, but to save space (this is becoming a long post,) I’ll spare you from further commentary. But feel free to leave any thoughts you have about it in the comments!

However, I also feel like it is such a good message to send to teens that no matter what you think your life should be, you can always change course and start again. In a word: resilience.  That’s something that I think is hard for people at any age and one that kids should absolutely learn.  Sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you planned.  And that’s OK.  Harper (and Rhen) both come to terms with the fact that their lives didn’t work out as expected.  I just think that is a very good message even if I do wish that Rhen had gotten his kingdom, the girl, and all the glory and a true happily ever after.

I hope I’ve inspired you to read the series!  Team Rhen, everyone.  Team Rhen.

A Curse so Dark and Lonely, published 2019

A Heart So Fierce and Broken, published 2020

A Vow So Bold and Deadly, published 2021

7 thoughts on “An ode to… the Cursebreakers series

  1. First, I have not read these books, I’ve been waffling.. This post has changed my mind and I’ll now definitely be reading them. Thank you!

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  2. I love this summary and the thoughts you included at the end!! I’ll have to disagree though, I’m Team Grey all the way haha 😂 But your points are 100% valid. Rhen’s character arc is INCREDIBLE, especially with how everything was wrapped up during the last book. Great post Cheryl!! ❤️

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    1. Thank you so much for reading! I definitely wanted to like Grey more, but it was telling when I was speed reading through his (and Lia Mara’s) chapters to get back to Rhen and Harper! Can’t wait to read Brigid Kemmerer’s next series! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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