Review: The Cursed Hunter

Back in April, I was introduced to the enchanting world of Bethany Atazadeh's Stolen Kingdom series. The first two books, The Stolen Kingdom and The Jinni Key, told the story of two princesses and their struggles to find love and save a kingdom. I eagerly awaited The Cursed Hunter, the third book in the series, in the hopes that it would continue the story and expand the world. When I finally got the opportunity to read it, it felt like it was from a completely different series that lacked the robust setting that was teased in the first two books. This book contains a simple story that feels dry and empty despite taking place in the same world. The expansive lore of Jinnis and Meremaids is replaced by a tale of a lone woman on a boring quest. I wish I could say this book was just as engaging and emotionally provocative as the first two, but I'm afraid The Cursed Hunter is a different beast entirely. Bethany Atazadeh is clearly a talented author, so I'm not sure what happened here.

The Cursed Hunter is about a young woman named Nesrin who wishes to save her family from bankruptcy by finding a priceless dragon egg. It is unclear why she thinks that a dragon's egg is the only way to make money when she has no experience with dragons and has never seen one of their eggs before. Even though she has selfless intentions, it often feels as though she is going on this quest to satiate her own desire for adventure than to help her family. Her quest leads her to the lair of a black dragon who turns out to be more sentient than she gives him credit for. She expects to be eaten on the spot, but her silent protector fights off other dragons and clumsily reveals his story to her in spite of a massive communication barrier. This book is promoted as a retelling of "Beauty and the Beast," but it feels more like a loose adaptation of "Rumpelstiltskin" as Nesrin must learn the dragon's true name to break his curse, not to fall in love with him. Another major difference is that this book primarily takes place in a filthy cave instead of the ornate palace that the "beauty" character finds herself trapped in.

I try not to judge books by their covers, but in this particular case, I found the cover of The Cursed Hunter to be extremely misleading. The Selena Gomez lookalike in the yellow gown bears virtually no resemblance to the tomboy described within these pages. Bethany Atazadeh redesigned the covers for all three books in this series, and the first two made perfect sense because they centered around princesses who were at somewhat feminine in nature. While there is nothing wrong with a female character who is more masculine than her peers, I would have liked to see a more accurate depiction of Nesrin before I started the book. So much of it reads like the tale of an adventuring prince on an epic quest to slay a dragon, except that the prince just happens to be a woman. There is no point in the story where Nesrin puts on a yellow ballgown, nor is she the type of person who would ever want to. She is described as wearing trousers, hunting boots, and the occasional dragon scale armor vest, which admittedly would have made a more unique image than the one that was ultimately used.

Nesrin is far less social than her princess predecessors. While Arie and Rena from the previous two books were surrounded by colorful faces that added strong emotional connections to their stories, Nesrin spends the majority of this book alone with a mute dragon as her only companion. This leads to endless pages of description about what she eats, where she sleeps, and occasionally how the dragon tends to her wounds. There are many times in the book where she awkwardly talks to herself due to the dragon's inability to talk back. This sensory-driven survival story is so visually dependent that it works far better for animated series such as Samurai Jack than it does with written words alone. I related far more to the chapters that were told from the dragon's perspective as he struggled to recover his humanity than to learning how Nesrin survived another day with no human contact. Unfortunately, the dragon's chapters were few and far between and rarely longer than a page, which accounts for the shorter length of this book compared to the rest of the series.

The Cursed Hunter does little to expand upon the rich world that was introduced in The Stolen Kingdom and The Jinni Key. It does not reveal anything new about the elusive Jinnis despite Nesrin visiting their homeland. Though it was adapted from one of the greatest love stories of all time, it contained little to no romance. This book is not a good fit for people who enjoyed princess stories like the other two in the series. Nesrin is more of an adventurer than a princess, and not a particularly good one at that. Her quest would have surely gotten her killed if it hadn't been for the cursed dragon that she encountered. The fourth and final book in the series, The Enchanted Crown, promises to bring back Princesses Arie and Rena, so I would recommend skipping over this book and reading that one when it gets released next year instead.


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