Cursed by Thomas Wheeler and Frank Miller (artist) is a young adult fantasy novel that is a retelling of the Arthurian legend from the perspective of Nimue, who was known as The Lady of the Lake. I had originally picked this up because I’m lowkey obsessed with Arthurian stories and Nimue is someone whom I’ve always found to be incredibly fascinating. However, this book ended up being another terrible disappointment in the long line of recent Arthurian releases as of late.
Elements that I actually liked about Cursed include the incorporation of familiar Arthurian characters, how dark and violent the retelling is, and the attempt at adding creative touches on old-school favourites, like Merlin and Uther.
While the characters were mostly one-dimensional and laughably forgettable, the clever ways that the some of the minor characters were written into the story were pretty interesting to me. But in the end, the twists and liberties taken with these folx ended up creating a cauldron of frustration as the story progressed. For example, Merlin is portrayed as an alcoholic fool who constantly makes comments that are extremely disrespectful and crude. He isn’t brilliant or helpful or contributes to the story in the ways that one would expect. Rather he became a consistently intoxicated comic relief that made me cringe nearly every time he made his appearance. This made me angry because Merlin is usually one of my favourite people from the Arthurian tales.
Most, if not all, of the characters were dumbed down to one extent or another. I’m not sure if this was done to accommodate for a target young adult audience, or not. If that was the case, then I find that to be outrageous as it doesn’t give young adult readers credit for being intelligent enough to handle more complexly crafted characters and narrative dynamics.
Another example of poor character construction is the leading lady, Nimue. I loved that she is portrayed as a Black person. Yet, I hated that she is whittled down into an indecisive individual that needs to have other people frequently telling her what to do because of the uncertainty she is always wrapped up in. Considering that Nimue is supposed to be a leader, her ineptness with making choices made me want to throw the book against the wall at certain points. She’s also ridiculously depthless, flat, and utterly forgettable, personality-wise.
The writing style is very simplistic, which in and of itself isn’t a problem. However, when you combine it with a mostly slow progressing storyline and moronic cast members, it creates a powerful wall between the reader and the book, making it immensely challenging to stay centred and connected with what’s unfolding on the pages. There are unexplained story gaps with very little world-building, culturally speaking, that also contributes to the linear and superficial tale of Cursed.
My biggest problem with Cursed, aside from the mutilation of Nimue’s character, is the use of violence. Normally I adore dark and violently fucked-up stories, yet in Cursed, the violence is nothing more than a gratuitous prop to make the story more exciting. It’s used as complete shock value and is at-times so brutally graphic that I had to question the point of it. The vast majority of the violence is also geared towards women and children. There’s even a scene where a baby falls victim to a disturbing act of cruelty. The details and intensity of which the scene was portrayed came off as excessive and bit unnecessary. At times, I felt stunned that the novel was being advertised as a young adult title since it read so predominantly as adult fantasy.
Overall, Cursed was a sloppy rendition of the Arthurian tales and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone that is interested in diving into these legends, whether you’re a long-time fan or a newbie searching for a place to begin. There are far better books out there with better writing and more deeply developed characters that would be worth the energy than this title. Hard pass on this one, folx. Hard pass.
1 slashing outta 5!
Please note: I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review, courtesy of Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing
Also, please note that Nimue is Black in this specific story. However, in the upcoming Netflix adaptation of the book she is played by a white person. Suffice to say that I shall not be watching this adaptation at all. Even though my experience with the book was less than desirable, I was looking forward to seeing how the tale would fare as a TV show. But I don’t condone whitewashing BIPOC/POC characters, especially since there are so many talented BIPOC actxrs out there. Another hard pass.