Enchanted Castles and Warrior Princesses
The Cursebreakers Series by Brigid Kemmerer, Bloomsbury
This isn't so much a review as an ode to an amazing trio of books. I went into this series without knowing anything about it. For this reason, I'm not going to say too much or mention any characters or settings besides those that appear in the first book, in case I spoil the reading experience for anyone else.
Loosely based on Beauty and the Beast, this is a feminist exploration of the classic fairy tale. Set in present-day Washington D.C. as well as the magical kingdom of Emberfall, this series combines fantasy with contemporary storytelling. Harper is a teenage girl who, while attempting to prevent what she thinks is an abduction, finds herself transported to a cursed castle in another world.
The characters are amazing and there are so many seriously strong women. The series is also diverse and inclusive with LGBT and Black, Asian and minority ethnic main protagonists. Harper has cerebral palsy which affects her mobility slightly, yet is one of the toughest, bravest and most daring females I've ever met in a book.
Emberfall and its neighbouring country, Syhl Shallow are lands where female warriors, spies and rulers are commonplace. It's fantastic how much agency Harper has and how independent she is - this is no damsel in distress. Harper never falls under Rhen's spell nor does she compromise any of her integrity in order to impress him.
Brigid Kemmerer is an amazing writer and the intricate and intriguing world she evokes is brought to life convincingly. It's wonderful how the author shifts perspective and shows the inner monologue of a different character with each chapter. This is done seamlessly, allows for an extraordinary insight into each protagonist, and enables the reader to see the same events from different viewpoints.
I loved all the details about Ironrose Castle, where Harper is staying with Prince Rhen and Grey, the only surviving member of the Royal Guard. As eerie as an enchanted castle is, Kemmerer makes it an incredibly attractive setting. The warm kitchen that perpetually smells of freshly-baked bread and produces unlimited amounts of food particularly appealed to me.
The last holiday I had before the pandemic, was a brief stay at Kilkea Castle in March 2020, about ten days before Ireland went into lockdown. As there were rumours that a lockdown was imminent, there was a really strange and hushed atmosphere, and a sense of impending doom. The hotel had a massive open fire in the lobby, and I sat next to it reading for most of my stay. I keep picturing this place as the setting for Ironrose.
The Cursebreakers series is the perfect companion to sit with beside any fireplace (although I did dream of Kilkea while reading all three). These books are among the most compelling I've ever read. I stayed up late reading on so many occasions because I absolutely had to know what happened next, and the narrative was constantly surprising me. Beauty and the Beast may be a tale as old as time, but it has never been told like this before!
About the author:
Brigid Kemmerer is the New York Times bestselling author of dark and alluring young adult novels (see all her books here). A full-time writer, Brigid lives in the Baltimore area of Maryland, USA, with her husband, her boys, her dog, and her cat. When she’s not writing or being a mother, you can usually find her with her hands wrapped around a barbell. Brigid is hilarious on Twitter and writes the most charming and endearing Acknowledgements in her books - even thanking her readers!