The Beautiful and the Cursed | The Dispossessed #1 | ISBN 9780385743112 | Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2013 | 1 out of 5 Points
“After a bizarre accident, Ingrid Waverly is forced to leave London with her mother and younger sister, Gabby, trading a world full of fancy dresses and society events for the unfamiliar city of Paris. In Paris there are no grand balls or glittering parties, and, disturbingly, the house Ingrid’s twin brother, Grayson, found for them isn’t a house at all. It’s an abandoned abbey, its roof lined with stone gargoyles that could almost be mistaken for living, breathing creatures.
And Grayson has gone missing. No one seems to know of his whereabouts but Luc, a devastatingly handsome servant at their new home. Ingrid is sure her twin isn’t dead—she can feel it deep in her soul—but she knows he’s in grave danger. It will be up to her and Gabby to navigate the twisted path to Grayson, a path that will lead Ingrid on a discovery of dark secrets and otherworldly truths. And she’ll learn that once they are uncovered, they can never again be buried.“
Oh my god, where do I even start? Basically “The Beautiful and the Cursed” is every historian’s worst nightmare. Don’t get me wrong please. I am perfectly capable of enjoying flawed historical novels. If a book is any good I don’t care about inaccuracies, not even the big ones. But if the whole book is a giant inaccuracy that’s a different story. If the book has no redeeming qualities on top of that the game is over.
WHO NEEDS RESEARCH WHEN YOU’VE GOT FOUR LOVE INTERESTS?
“The Beautiful and the Cursed” is set in 1899 Paris, my favourite city and my most favourite historical era, so there I was thinking I would definitely love this book. Boy, was I wrong. I should have learnt by now that whenever I think I can’t go wrong with a book I will go wrong. I feel kind of betrayed actually because even though this book promises Belle Époque Paris we’re basically getting run of the mill YA fantasy that reads like something from 2006 even though this book was published in 2013. The only thing suggesting that this book was not in fact part of the wave of paranormal YA romance sweeping the market after “Twilight” hit big was that it was part of the YA gothic revival that happened around 2013 when everyone was suddenly writing historical paranormals. What I’m saying is that “The Beautiful and the Cursed” is kind of riding quite a few recent YA trends to its untimely death.
I don’t know how much research went into “The Beautiful and the Cursed” – I like starting off reviews like this with this disclaimer because there’s a possibility that Page Morgan spent months and months doing research and just couldn’t translate it into her novel and I don’t want to paint her as lazy or ignorant because writing historical fiction is hard. Trust me on this, I’ve tried.
But the thing is, the novel reads like no research whatsoever went into it. “The Beautiful and the Cursed” is essentially zero fun if you know and care a bit about the time and place it is supposed to be set in. There are glaring historical inaccuracies: For example the author describes Paris as a dirty dark city full of twisted cobble stone alleys. No, love, that’s London. Paris had been remodelled completely in the 1870s. It was a bright place of broad boulevards and electrical light. And this isn’t obscure knowledge, this is Belle Époque 101 so how Morgan missed reading about it is beyond me.
We’re not getting many historical descriptions anyway. Page Morgan’s writing style is beautiful. It was the only thing about “The Beautiful and the Cursed” that I really liked. Her writing reads like poetry, it’s vivid, her descriptions are spot-on (even though in the case of what Belle Époque Paris looked like, they’re wrong). But when it comes to historical fashion, to how the girls wear their hair and other Belle Époque aesthetics there’s not much there and I think that’s a shame. This book doesn’t let you immerse yourself in the era at all. It’s like a bad TV historical drama that way. You know, the ones where they forgot to edit out cars in the background or historical costumes have modern day zippers or someone wears modern day make-up? This book is like that. The historical setting doesn’t feel real, it’s off.
SHE DIDN’T START THE FIRE, IT WAS ALWAYS BURNING, SINCE THE WORLD’S BEEN TURNING
I honestly don’t know why this is a historical novel at all because the plot keeps being anachronistic any chance it gets. A fifteen year old aristocratic girl puts on a sexy red dress to go meet her boyfriend alone at night. An aristocratic woman moves to Paris to open up an art gallery. Two underage aristocratic girls go rambling about Paris unchaperoned all the time. The family has to flee London because Ingrid accidentally set a ballroom on fire. This is this novel’s hook and it’s ridiculous and unbelievable.
Lighting someone’s ball room on fire just isn’t really the epitome of a scandal in late Victorian London. If people assumed it was an accident, Ingrid’s father would have paid for the damage and it would have been hushed up because her family is rich. They’re aristocrats for god’s sake. They don’t have scandals, they have money. If people assumed that Ingrid set the fire on purpose – How the hell was the girl not locked up in a mental asylum? How the hell was she allowed to move to Paris without any further consequence? Anyways, what I’m getting at is that this hook does not work at all. Not in 1899, not when I’m supposed to believe this is real life Victorian England we’re talking about. Boo.
Also Ingrid and her sister Gabby keep acting like modern day teenagers which is grating in a historical novel. They swoon over boys, sneak out, they even talk like this was 2013, not 1899. These girls have supposedly grown up in fin de siècle London so how come they don’t act like it? Honestly, this book doesn’t even try to be historical fiction. It wants the pretty aesthetics of Belle Époque Paris but it doesn’t want to bother with pesky Victorian etiquette, rules and context. Boo again. You can’t have what you think are the nice bits and just ignore everything else but that’s essentially what Page Morgan is doing. She wants the cute old-timey feel and nice gowns but not the ugly parts. If this is how you go about writing a historical novel maybe you should ask yourself if you really should write a historical novel. This could have just been set in modern day Paris and all these historical accuracy problems wouldn’t have ruined the book for me, just saying.
WHO NEEDS TENSION WHEN YOU’VE GOT FOUR LOVE INTERESTS?
The plot is nothing special so I think the historical French setting was supposed to make the book original and it might’ve worked if it had been done well. I know a lot of readers won’t care. Maybe they won’t even notice since not anyone is a history nerd like I am. But history nerds are very likely to pick up books like this one. I mean, we read historical fiction because we love history. We want history to actually be in the historical fiction we pick up. And we’re disappointed when you play us like this. This is fiction, yes, and fiction is supposed to entertain and not every little detail has to be right but if you decide to write a historical novel, do your research and work with it, my god. Make it as authentic as you can. Don’t half-arse it because “it’s just fiction, it’s just for teenagers, but I don’t like this part of historical Paris so let’s pretend it didn’t exist”.
To be honest, books like these are an insult to readers of historical fiction. It’s an insult to teenage readers too. Basically an insult to all readers, if they enjoy the book or don’t. They might not know a lot about Belle Époque Paris and won’t notice the inaccuracies but they’ll trust you to know what you’re writing about. And when you don’t you’re screwing with their perception of history. You’re relying on your readers knowing even less about Belle Époque Paris than you do and you don’t care about them enough to do some research and give them a real idea of the period you’re writing about. Well done.
The story itself didn’t work for me either. I’ve mentioned before that it reads like a 2006 Twilight knock-off that was late to the party by seven years and there isn’t much else to say. You’ve got your beautiful heroine, Ingrid. She describes herself as this perfect English beauty. You’ve got two totally hot guys. They aren’t vampires but paranormal creatures are of course involved here and even though there are no vampires in this book at all, there’s still a vampiric being so they’re still kind of there even though they’re called something else. You’ve got Ingrid torn between someone actually nice and the arsehole bad boy who is mean but pretty. Same old, same old. And to make this book even more grating you’ve got it in duplicate: Ingrid’s younger sister is also smouldering hot and she’s got two guys who fight for her love as well! Because two love interests aren’t enough for one novel. Let’s have four!
Whilst Ingrid is at least a kick-ass heroine with a healthy sense of self-worth, Gabby is… I don’t even know how to describe this. The girl’s an idiot. She keeps making absolutely idiotic decisions and you just want to shake her. Either she loves getting in trouble and risking her life so much she does it every chance she gets or she’s stupid. Enough said.
Also I was really uncomfortable with fifteen year old Gabby dating someone in his 20s. This shouldn’t be considered normal today and it wasn’t normal in the Belle Époque despite what you might think about Victorians marrying young. They married in their late teens or early twenties, not aged fifteen. A fifteen year old girl would have been considered still a child in fact but Gabby is unchaperoned all the time, sneaks off with her older boyfriend and lets him treat her like she wasn’t worth the dirt under his shoes. This would have been disgusting if Gabby had been his age but she’s a fifteen year old girl for crying out loud. How is that okay?
HISTORICAL FICTION FOR PEOPLE WHO HATE HISTORICAL FICTION
There’s too much going on as well and at the same time there’s nothing going on. The set-up was interesting once I suspended disbelief enough to stop rolling my eyes: Once they arrive in Paris, Ingrid and Gabby realise that their brother Grayson (those names, I tell ya) has gone missing. Ingrid sets out to find him and discovers a paranormal mystery waiting to be solved. But there’s no tension. Ever. Because Page Morgan basically solves every mystery she creates right in the next chapter. Whilst Ingrid is still trying to work out what happened to Grayson we already know because Grayson told us in an earlier chapter. Yawn!
This book reads like it wasn’t edited at all. There’s no tension and the pacing is weird. The worst thing is, this could’ve been easily fixed by cutting one of the gazillion points of view. Did Grayson really need one? Wouldn’t Ingrid and Gabby’s points of view have been enough? But if “The Beautiful and the Cursed” isn’t much else, it has mastered being excessive. More love interests than ever before, more points of view, more themes and half thought out plot twists too!
I don’t want to spoil the book for you but let’s just say that apparently nobody told Page Morgan that there was no need to stuff every novel idea she ever had into one single book. There’s vampiric creatures and angels and gargoyles and a missing brother and a murder spree in Paris and magic and a girl going demon hunting and and and… my head was spinning halfway through the book. It was like three stories rolled into one and nothing fit together. Sometimes less is more. With this book less would definitely have been more.
So what does “The Beautiful and the Cursed” have going for it? Not much. An interesting premise and a beautiful writing style. Apart from that it’s all glaring historical inaccuracies, not one but two instant-love-triangles, no tension, weird pacing, not one but two super rude love interests, and too much going on. If you like love triangles and don’t care much for historical fiction you might enjoy it okay. If you’re interested in this because you’re into historical paranormal romances, you’ll be disappointed. I would go as far as calling “The Beautiful and the Cursed” historical fiction for people who hate historical fiction. It has some vague old-fashiony aesthetics but none of the actual history, none of the ugly parts or complexity of actual beautiful Belle Époque Paris. Chances missed.
“The Beautiful and the Cursed” was my biggest letdown in quite a while and I will obviously not be picking up any of the sequels. It’s extremely rare for me to give a book only 1 point because I know how hard writing a book is. But there’s nothing here apart from nice writing. So 1 point for the writing style. No points for apparently as good as zero research, the unoriginal love stories, making a fifteen year old date a man in his 20s, rude love interests and about a dozen half-baked plots. A historical setting is not enough to make a book original. Especially not when it was published at a time when Victorian era YA was the hot new thing. If this kind of story interests you, you’ll be better off reading Susan Dennard or Sonia Gensler.
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