Cursed by Thomas Wheeler (illustrations by Frank Miller) is a unique spin on the Arthurian legend in which Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, becomes the wielder of the Sword of Power and eventual Queen of the Fey. The main antagonists in this novel are the Church and the Red Paladins, Uther Pendragon and his forces, and the Ice King and his Viking army.
Nimue’s hero’s journey starts when the Red Paladin’s attack her Fey village, and her Druid mother entrusts her with the Sword of Power aka the Devil’s Tooth to take to Merlin to end the war. However, Nimue quickly finds that the Sword is drawn to her and vice versa. The sword enhances her inherit power of the Hidden (magic within the Fey) and emboldens her to take on Red Paladins and all other foes single-handedly. Throughout her journey to find Merlin, Nimue comes across the familiar characters of the Arthurian legends such as Arthur and Morgan. Through them, Nimue realizes her power even more–especially through Morgan. Although in this version of the legend, Morgan seems to be a human with extensive knowledge of the Fey and magic. What I appreciated about Morgan is that she forms a fast friendship with Nimue and encourages her self-confidence. In fact, it is through Morgan that Nimue realizes she doesn’t need to give the sword to Merlin in order for him to stop the war. Rather, Nimue can wield the sword herself and become the savior of her people.
The other traditional characters (Lancelot, Gawain, Guinevere) of the legend come into play in odd and surprising ways, but at best are merely cameos. I’m not sure if the author intends for this story to be a novel series, but it certainly seemed that way due to all the loose threads and character mentions that were not elaborated on or fleshed out by the end of the book. As such, the end is a bit abrupt and without much explanation other than you begin to see the set up for an iteration of the legend we all know and how each character falls into place.
The author’s note also indicates that the Netflix series will not follow the book exactly, so I’m interested to see how other characters and storylines are fleshed out in the TV show.
Cursed is a fun novel and short read. Although Arthurian legends can be overdone, I do have a soft spot for them becase of their magic, mystery, and intriguing female characters. The very nature of legend is to interpret as you will, with your own creativity and meanings. Rather than just play musical chairs with the characters with the same backdrop, Cursed presents these characters in unique ways with very different backgrounds from what we traditionally know. I’m curious to see more from this story and if the author writes more installments.