Book Review: Cursed by Frank Miller and Thomas Wheeler

Published in Australia on the 19th May 2020 by Puffin, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

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Australian RRP: $17.99

ISBN: 9780241376621

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, Reimagining, Adaption of Folklore/Legends.

Page Count: 448

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Sypnosis from Penguin Books Australia

The Lady of the Lake finds her voice in this cinematic twist on the tale of King Arthur created by Tom Wheeler and legendary artist, producer, and director Frank Miller (300Batman: The Dark Night ReturnsSin City).

Whosoever wields the Sword of Power shall be the one true King.
But what if the Sword has chosen a Queen?

Nimue grew up an outcast. Her connection to dark magic made her something to be feared in her Druid village, and that made her desperate to leave…

That is, until her entire village is slaughtered by Red Paladins, and Nimue’s fate is forever altered. Charged by her dying mother to reunite an ancient sword with a legendary sorcerer, Nimue is now her people’s only hope. Her mission leaves little room for revenge, but the growing power within her can think of little else.

Nimue teams up with a charming mercenary named Arthur and refugee Fey Folk from across England. She wields a sword meant for the one true king, battling paladins and the armies of a corrupt king. She struggles to unite her people, avenge her family, and discover the truth about her destiny.

But perhaps the one thing that can change Destiny itself is found at the edge of a blade.

Look out for the original Netflix series starring Katherine Langford streaming everywhere in 2020!

My Review:

I received a finished copy of Cursed from Penguin Books Australia/ Penguin Teen Australia in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.

I’ve always been one who’s absolutely enthused and fascinated, enamoured even by anything related to the Arthurian Legend, for many years now. So when I heard about Cursed I’m not going to lie and say that I wasn’t excited, because I totally was! A female lead reimagining of King Arthur, but Nimue, the Lady of the Lake no less, leading the helm. The excitement was well and truly real! Finally, Nimue was to get a story where she’d be able to proclaim herself a strong heroine, one worshipped by her people, the saviour of all her kind, celebrated instead of being feared, perhaps even loved instead of being rejected (as Cursed initially depicts Nimue as feeling). Perhaps we’d get to learn more about the woman behind the myth, who I only really knew as the Lady who arose from the depths of her watery lair to give Arthur the sword of Excalibur, according to some legends.

Initially, I was quite drawn into the world of Cursed. Thomas Wheeler’s portrayal of Nimue was unlike anything I’ve read before, twining in the Fey folk lore which I absolutely loved too, concocting imagery of young fey type creatures that resemble an amalgam of human and creature, their faces resembling human children but then having say antlers, too. I absolutely adored the ferocity that Nimue possessed in wanting to look after her people, fighting off those horrible Red Paladins, who’d often mercilessly beat and kill civilians just to show their supposed toughness and the fact that they thought they could take out Fey kind, thinking they’re some sort of ridiculous abomination!

However, as Nimue’s path to leadership and power supposedly became clearer in Cursed, for me, things actually were portrayed as the complete opposite! Like okay, Nimue’s always fought for her people and been furious at the injustices and cruelty that they’ve faced, which is completely fair and admirable. I wanted Nimue to do well. I wanted her to lead her people, I wanted the Fey Folk to be safe and celebrated!

I just felt like as Nimue was starting to really come into her own, fighting those beasts that were those Red Paladins and fighting for her people, whilst she’s completely starting to lead without influence, realising that maybe she can be the Queen of her people, the Mistress of the magical sword of power.

As Nimue discovers that the noted sword seems to call out to her, she finds herself unable to ignore its hum of bloodlust and consequently, she finds herself yielding it as strongly as any man could, the reader is introduced to a young man who crossed paths with Nimue, one who frankly I think makes her question everything, introducing what was in my opinion, a very questionable romance aspect of the book.

I didn’t quite understand what the Author was trying to present Arthur as, usually he’s presented as a completely bold and brave Knight, one who’s do anything for his Kingdom and his people, one who wouldn’t turn against injustices to the poor and impoverished. Granted, I know this depiction isn’t your traditional Arthurian reimagining, so of course there’s going to be substantial differences. It’s just that the romance aspect between Arthur and Nimue’s felt so unnecessary, with Nimue not being sure at all if she could ever trust him (same, if I’m honest?) but I felt like the romantic aspect of this book was just so back and forth, one minute Nimue’s thinking that he is a selfish, thoughtless young man who can’t be trusted (he turns his back on her!) and then a little later on as Nimue’s trying to bargain for her people’s safety and everything, he comes back and she’s all for it! Like, where’s the consistency?

Thomas Wheeler’s depiction of Merlin was quite curious too. In Cursed, we meet Merlin as a slightly decrepit Sorcerer, definitely a far stretch from the Sorcerer with the endless fountain of wisdom and twinkle in his eye that we know and recognise so well! Granted, this was interesting as a completely brand new take on his character and I just thought that he wasn’t the most strongly depicted, his character often just coming across to me as a cautious voice of reason, suggesting that Uther and Nimue (in different scenes, of course), don’t do anything hasty, even though we all know it will likely happen anyway!

Throughout Cursed there are illustrations from Frank Miller which accompany the story of Nimue. Often illustrations throughout stories can really school what one reads about across the pages, literally bringing to mind what one visualised as those precious words are ingested. I appreciate art as a form of storytelling immensely, however I couldn’t help but feel the images joining Cursed were just a bit too comical to be believed, not quite capturing the traditional fantastical elements that might have really helped echo this story along!

Within Cursed, it’s hinted that a sweeping, raging epic battle is looming, with armies from opposing sides being gathered in abundance. Treaties were proposed, bargains attempted to be etched, all leading up to what I hoped would be a completely vivid and unforgettable finale. Unfortunately though for me, all the leapfrogging of Nimue’s mind going back and forth as to her destiny and fate and her conflicted feelings about Arthur and not wanting to let Morgana or her people down (speaking of, pretty sure Morgana deserved more of a swan song, she’d shown such devotion to Nimue, even when Arthur was proving questionable!).

Whilst I’m slightly disappointed in Cursed, it’s purely because I consider myself quite the enthusiast of Arthurian Lore, so I found myself definitely having higher expectations for this female lead adaption that just personally for me weren’t met. However, I definitely encourage you to pick up a copy and see what you think! A heartfelt thank you once again to Penguin Books Australia/ Penguin Teen Australia for sending me a copy of Cursed to read and review.

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