Ever Cursed introduces us to a fairy-tale steeped fantasy world where kingdoms both rely on and are in conflict with witches who wear the burden of each spell they've ever cast in the form of layers of skirts that range in color and cloth according to the type of spell involved. The story is told from the perspectives of a princess, Jane, who is Spellbound--cursed, as are so many classic fairy-tale princesses, and the witch, Reagan, who cursed her. Jane is one of five sisters who are all cursed; upon their 13th birthdays, each has had a separate curse fall upon them. They must break the spell cast upon their family before it becomes a True Spell, dooming them to suffer the full effects of their curses for the rest of their lives--which may be cut short as a consequence.
While with this basic premise, Ever Cursed could easily have been written as a light-hearted YA fairy-tale novel, but instead Haydu's story uses this fairy-tale setting and premise to explore very serious concepts. The book begins with a content warning, advising: "Ever Cursed includes content involving sexual assault. It may also be triggering if you are struggling with, being treated for, or are in recovery for an eating disorder or disordered eating." This content warning is very much warranted given the content of the book, and helps to set the tone for this novel as well. If you go into this book hoping for a light fairy-tale-inspired read, you may very well be disappointed. This book is not that; it deals with difficult subject matter, and it can be quite dark and pretty depressing (although it does end, as most fairy-tales do, on a positive note).
I love this book. I was very pleasantly surprised by the way Haydu uses her fairy-tale setting to explore and discuss serious issues (with limited spoilers: issues dealth with in Ever Cursed include classism, sexism, gender identity, trauma and PTSD). Some critique I've read indicate that Haydu did not dive deep enough into the characters or the setting, but I appreciated how much I came to know the characters and the world in which they live without needing to read an expansive novel or a full series of books. Ever Cursed has an admirable amount of depth for a novel of its length, and I immediately wanted to re-read it after I first finished it. As a woman who has been a victim of sexual assault and of domestic violence, and who is dealing with C-PTSD, I found the characters to be believable and relatable. I delighted in the fact that when characters and plot points were frustrating to me, they were believably and understandably so; characters weren't inexplicably complicating situations through poor choices that made no sense at all, but were instead acting in ways that felt as though they fit with their life experience. I love the setting and magic system of Ever Cursed, and love the way Haydu gradually introduced it in an organic way without info-dumping at any point; when I found myself wanting to know more, the characters tended to be feeling the same way.
Many times, when turning to fairy tales and fairy-tale fiction, we want to escape from the problems of the real world for a time. However, fairy-tale tropes and fantasy settings can also be used to explore and think deeply on facets of our actual society and experience. Ever Cursed does the latter, and if you go into it expecting the former instead, you will very likely be disappointed. There are many, many books--especially YA fiction--which serve that first purpose of escapist fairy-tale fantasy. I love that Ever Cursed does something different within this genre, and would love to read more books that do likewise.
To put it in the context of other fairy-tale books I've discussed on this blog: I'd say that Ever Cursed in length and language is much like Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver or Heather Tomlinson's Toads and Diamonds, but in terms of tone and content is closer to Helen Oyeyemi's Gingerbread. Personally, I very much enjoyed that combination.
In summary: I highly recommend Ever Cursed, but do caution to take the content warning seriously and to go in with the appropriate expectations.
Elizabeth Wilcox. Writer, Avid Role-Player, Amateur Mixologist. Survivor.