Review: The Cursed Prince

Aya Ling recently released The Cursed Prince, the third and final book in her Reversed Retellings series. Of the three fairy tales that she covered, I think the "Sleeping Beauty" fairy tale lends itself to gender-reversal the best without changing the themes of the original story because the roles of the protagonists have are not affected by their physical strength or conventional beauty stereotypes. Till Midnight, the first book in the Reversed Retellings series, changed the plot of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" by requiring the princes to battle trolls at night instead of dance at a ball, which made them more conventionally masculine. In The Beast and the Beauty, Lady Sybil attempted to use magic, fashion, and makeup to make herself look more presentable to suitors in spite of her monstrous appearance, which are conventionally feminine things that we never saw the Beast do in "Beauty and the Beast." In contrast, the main character in "Sleeping Beauty" was cursed as a baby, a time when all people are the most vulnerable regardless of their conventional gender, and rescued by true love's kiss, a task that anyone who loves another person can easily perform.


The Cursed Prince tells the story of Gabi, a young woman who lost her parents and the use of her foot in a battle with an evil mage. She was taken in by Freja, a mage who appeared in earlier books from this series, but only on the condition that Gabi could keep her secret. Freja was the caretaker of a young prince named Alrik who everyone else in the kingdom believed was dead. Alrik was cursed as a baby to prick his skin on his 21st birthday and die, but Freja amended the curse so that he would only fall into a deep sleep that he could be awakened from by true love's kiss. Gabi agreed to keep the secret and took on the task of making Alrik fall in love with her in case it would be necessary for her to save him one day. Unfortunately for Gabi, she found herself falling in love with Alrik over the seven years that she lived with him, while he showed no sign of loving her as anything more than a sister. Aya Ling excels at writing love stories, especially in her Unfinished Fairy Tales series, so I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the romance and conflicted feelings between Gabi and Alrik.

The Cursed Prince would have been perfect if it only focused on Gabi and Alrik's relationship and their struggle with the witch Moira who cursed him, but Aya Ling wanted to bring all of the stories in Reversed Retellings to a close, which I think was a detriment to this book in particular. Many of the later chapters focused on Alix and Sybil, characters whose stories were already completed in the first two Reversed Retellings books. I thought that bringing back Alix and Theo's conflict with the trolls felt like old news and something that should have already been resolved in Till Midnight. There were so many characters involved in the final battles that I found it difficult to keep track of who everyone was even though I had read all three books. For that reason, the development of Gabi and Alrik's relationship didn't get the full attention it deserved, which was a shame because that was my favorite aspect of The Cursed Prince.

Personality-wise, I found Gabi easy to relate to. She was insecure about her disability, even though it rarely ever came up in any important scenes. I loved that she was incredibly smart and so good at memorizing books that Freja promoted her from being her student to Alrik's teacher. Alrik was a charming extrovert who hid most of his true feelings from the people around him. I personally thought his reason for hiding his feelings toward Gabi was a bit silly, though. In order to protect Alrik from his curse, Freja convinced him that he had hemophilia and that any prick of his skin could be fatal. Since he was worried that the gene for the disease might pass onto his children, he pretended that he didn't have feelings for anyone. I don't think it's realistic for a lovestruck teenager to plan that far ahead, but I was happy to see that Gabi's feelings toward him were reciprocated because she had such a hard life.

Overall, I absolutely love the idea of a gender-reversed "Sleeping Beauty." In some ways, I think it works even better than the original story because a kiss is an act of gentility, which is something that is more conventionally associated with femininity. The Cursed Prince had a great love story, but it was overshadowed by other characters whose stories should have already been resolved in previous books. I wish that more of the book focused solely on Gabi and Alrik's relationship and their conflict with Moira, who reminded me a great deal of the Snow Queen. It's a shame that Reversed Retellings series is ending after only three books, but I'm looking forward to reading Aya Ling's future books that she stated will take place in the same world.

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