Quite the heavy book. I mean that literally. I don’t know what kind of paper and binding was used, but this sumo wrestler of a book weighs about 15 pounds.
So what’s in this weighty bind-up? Last year, I saw not one but two films about the King Arthur story: The Kid Who Would Be King and Hellboy, both of which I really enjoyed. Hellboy’s main protagonist was Nimue (pronounced Nim-way), known as the Queen of Blood. I did some quick research and found she’s known more as the Lady of the Lake in most folklore, but in this version, she’s the one who bears the sword. Nimue is told by her mother’s dying breaths that she must take a special sword and send it to magician Merlin, who’s currently in captivity by the ruthless Uther Pendragon. Along the way to do so, however, a bounty is put on her head, and she ends up taking on the role of the Wolf-Blood Witch when she must slay those who try to steal the sword and behead her. Pretty soon towns and farms are being burned to the ground for failing to keep all hands on deck in capturing her, and she and a small group of friends, one of which is named Arthur, must decide if sending the sword to Merlin will be an appropriate Mission-Accomplished, or if the legend of The Sword in the Stone is not actually supposed to go down in history with a male warrior swinging Excalibur.
“Born in the dawn, to pass in the twilight” is the slogan of Cursed, and it’s said throughout this story in the most suitable of times. And I didn’t double check and go look at the book to see if I was right. A fantasy novel has to be doing something nice if I’m invested enough in its saying.
But there’s a glaring flaw, and no, not in the quote. There are some moments scattered with corny dialogue and even cornier moments for that dialogue to be given. Nimue ends up killing a guy who tries to get onto her as most of them are bathing in a lake, and the other guys from a few yards away who witness it happening don’t seem freaked out their friend just died but excited to get the reward for Nimue’s capture. There’s also a vision from the past of how Merlin and Lenore met, and when Merlin asks why Lenore is saving his life, her reason is somehow both robotic and cheekily poetic, as a temple is crumbling around them threatening to bury them alive.
There’s more the book has going for it, though. As the cover displayed, this novel also has an illustrator. So what did that end up doing? Well, this is proof just like the Miss Peregrine series that visuals tremendously add to a novel, and picture books should not be taken as lame. The illustrations by Frank Miller are surreal, spiky and rocky yet they somehow retain expressions. They look like Picasso fell in love with cave drawing, like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They give the words on the page next to them a bit of an extra crunch.
Now, would I recommend Cursed to reluctant readers? Maybe not. Despite the pictures heightening the experience, this is a bit of a slow-burn novel, a saga of over 60 short chapters with a lot to talk about. Then again, even though this book has a cliffhanger, I got the feeling this wasn’t a book teetering on the necessity to have a second chapter down the road. Thomas Wheeler seemed to want to tell a complete story of self-realization, war, and attack formation to leave readers satisfied with the full-course meal. If reluctant readers can accept this single book as all we may see of Nimue and her friends, the illustrations and rather fast beginning just might enthrall them. One of the toughest and most memorable scenes is when Nimue is forced to have a healthy tooth pulled right out of her mouth to fool a guard into thinking she needs dental care, and in those times, I doubt there would be a way to ever have a proper replacement.
As usual, the ending is the biggest impact on my grade, and this was a case of pass or fail, because it sometimes dragged as multiple points of view went around which didn’t seem too necessary. And this ending is definitely unexpected, unforgettable enough for me to forgive a few of the book’s flaws as I put it down.
As you can see from the sticker on the cover picture, this is soon to be a Netflix series, and Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why, Love Simon, Knives Out) is playing Nimue, a very good choice for the role. Looking forward to seeing how this turns out. The story and atmosphere in this book feel like the type that would work best on-screen.