Sunday, 19 September 2021

Movie Review: Candyman (2021)

Candyman (2021) is the perfect continuation of 1992's movie of the same name. Even though I'd seen the trailer, I was still half-expecting a reboot when we went to see it this week. I was pleasantly surprised, though, to find that it was actually a sequel - and impressed by how well the two stories intertwined. 

(Warning: there are spoilers after this point.)

It's been ten years since the last of the Cabrini-Green tenement buildings were torn down. Like they usually do in these cases, rich people came in behind the wrecking balls and erected shiny new artisan communities in their places. Anyone who's seen Rent (or, hell, even South Park) knows that the gentrification of the ghetto is far from a new concept in the entertainment industry.


That theme, along with the absence vs. omnipresence of police in the ghetto, underscore the visceral body horror in 2021's Candyman. They add a very real, very recognizable, very social horror that stays with you long after you can sleep with the lights off again. 

(I'm just kidding... I never sleep with the lights off.)

I'm not usually a fan of gore in movies but it does work well in Candyman. Although intense at times, it's never overused. It doesn't linger overlong on the odd severed neck, for example, and the bevvy of schoolgirls dumb enough to say Candyman five times in the mirror are killed just out of shot - though there are plenty of squelchy noises and buckets of blood to keep you clued in.

Probably the most disturbing sight in the film comes in the form of poor tortured artist, Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.) The story centers around McCoy and his exploration of Candyman through art but, as it goes on, you learn that he's so much more important to the legend than you expected. 

The grotesqueness starts subtly, when McCoy gets a bee sting on his hand while he photographs Cabrini-Green the same way Virginia Madsen's Helen Lyle did in '92. (There are so many clever little shout-outs to the original like that.) The skin around the sting starts to fester, the infection spreading until OMGWHYDIDIGETPOPCORNBLEGH. Even though it's beyond disgusting, it's also extremely well done because, by the end, his skin resembles a beehive more than flesh. 

It isn't all gore and gruesome displays in Candyman. Much of the imagery is simply stunningly powerful, especially in the way bees travel in and out of mirrors, sometimes impossibly on the wrong side of the glass. There's also Candyman's murderous spree through the mirrors. I love the way that a reflection that can't possibly exist flits from here to there, leaving horror in its wake. 

Maybe it's the English major in me, but I just love the symbolism of the mirrors in Candyman - which, by the way, cleverly start with the production logos being reversed (as if viewed through a mirror,) accompanied by the quiet buzz of bees. Much later in the movie, traumatized youth and local laundromat owner, William Burke (Colman Domingo,) makes the case that Candyman is a coping mechanism, a way to help the ghetto get through the worst of the violence leveled at them. 



It's an idea that's reinforced by one of the movie's final scenes. White police officers - doing what white police officers always do - burst in and murder an unresponsive Anthony (laying on the ground and definitely not able to defend himself.) Rather than ask if his girlfriend, Teyonah Parris's Brianna Cartwright, needs help, they proceed to handcuff her, bundle her into a cop car, and threaten to send her to jail if she doesn't say Anthony attacked the police officers first. 

You can see the moment her faith in humanity dies. 

If, like me, you've spent the last several years watching the police get more and more out of control (getting sicker and sicker of it,) you understand exactly why Brianna does what she does at this point. Maybe William Burke had a point, after all...

The scathing social commentary brings Candyman bang up-to-date and, hopefully, gives some viewers a good gutcheck about how they approach these issues while the frequent jump-scares are enough to keep the more nervous viewers (like me!) on the edge of their seat. To balance out the gore, frights, and heavy social issues, we get the absolute freaking delight that is Nathan Stewart Jarrett as Brianna's brother, Troy.

Troy is fabulous, bitchy, and completely over-the-top in the most endearing way possible. I loved every moment he was on the screen and all of my favourite lines (bar the repetition of the original's "I am the writing on the wall/I must shed innocent blood" bit, which still gives me chills) come compliments of Troy. My favourite line has to be, "Ain't a dick on the planet good enough to offset a demonology hobby."

I mean... I rather think it would improve even the worst dick, but to each their own!

The only disappointing thing about Candyman is that there isn't enough Tony Todd in it. I'd heard that he wasn't in it until the end, but that super brief cameo was such a dirty little tease! At least his last scene leaves you with the suggestion that there will be more Candyman to come.

I disagree with people who dislike this sequel because it's "too political" or "over-focused on black issues." Horror movies have always held mirrors to society and Candyman one is no different. What is different, though, is that it doesn't hide these issues behind layers of half-assed symbolism that you have to sift through microscopic details to find meaning in. Like its title character, Candyman is unapologetically a reflection of the society that created it. 

And that society is fucking terrifying.

Candyman reflects a society where being black is okay if you're the "right" type of black. A society where even that won't keep you out of prison if it comes down to your word or a white man's. A society where a hooked-handed ghost that comes out of a mirror is less frightening than the real horrors you have to face walking home every night. Candyman challenges viewers to face these societal horrors head-on.

And, of course, to say his name. 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Castle Vanian Halloween Special: Sneak Peek

 We're going to mix things up a bit for Halloween this year. Instead of doing a month-long countdown, we're going to break the month down into six categories and pick our favourite five from each category. Then, on Halloween day... well, you'll just have to hang around and see! 

So... what are the six categories we'll be focusing on this year? After the usual amount of deliberation (and haggling,) we came up with this list: 

One: Slashers

Two: Creature Features

Three: Werewolves

Four: Creepy Dolls & Toys

Five: Scarecrows

Six: Witches 

This should suit my scattered attention span a bit better, eh? I'm especially looking forward to the scarecrow movies! 

To see which movies made the long-list, come back next week!

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Movie Review: Afterimages (2014) **** SPOILERS ****

Afterimages (2014) is an anthology-style movie with shorts that fit so well into the main storyline that it avoids the clunkiness that a lot of anthologies suffer from. It's about a group of university students & friends who decide to burn a camera as an offering during Ghost Month, a Buddhist tradition during which people burn items that their ancestors might need in the afterlife. In modern times, this has grown to include things like money and phones - though they're typically made from joss paper and not actual freaking cars and phones. 

Yeah, dude just tossed a camera onto a fire. And then another... and... you get the point. 

Pretty sure these kids single-handedly burned a hole in the ozone layer. 

Plus... the camera... the pretty, pretty camera. 

Savages.

Anyway, when the fire burns down to nothing, they find a reel of film in the ashes. Like ya do. Naturally, they watch it and, realizing it's creepy as all get out, decide to go bigger and try a video camera instead of a SLR. That's when the fun really starts. 

I think I'll have a look at each short before I come back to the main story. So...


"Ghost Pool Leg"


This one starts with a creepy, crass British guy snooping at his neighbours through a small telescope, getting drunk, and talking dirty. When he sees one of them enjoying a midnight swim, he just can't resist going down to leer at her in person. 

Big mistake. 

A security guard shows up and tries to warn the creepo away but, being a creepo, he just won't listen. He has every right to be there! *eyeroll* Okay, listen. If a security guard tells me to stay out of the pool or else a ghost is gonna get me, I don't care if he's stark, raving mad - I'm out! Better safe than haunted.

Or dead.

*shudder*

"Ghost Pool Leg" teases a good long time, giving you plenty of opportunities to wonder one: how long can this fucker hold his breath? and two: when is she going to turn into the nasty ghostie we know she is? It gives you just enough time to start to get comfy and... GAH! 

There were a couple of things I really enjoyed about this one. I liked that the security guard turned out to be one of the ghost's victims. Clever. And satisfying since, you know... he warned him. I also enjoyed that the creepo thought he'd made it out - that and the way the glass in the mirror turned into water when he touched it, returning him to his own personal hell. 

Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.


"Xiao Bao Bao" 

There was a lot about "Xiao Bao Bao" I found deeply disturbing - but probably not for the reasons I should have. Like... I found the fact that the girl's reaction to someone jumping to their death outside her window was to grab her phone and take photos deeply disturbing. What a ghoul! It was also quite disturbing that she was happy to let her cat walk on the ledge of her balcony. Bad kitty mommy! 

(This is where Jay usually reminds me that it's a movie and, therefore, not real but I'm one of those people who absolutely yells at the screen. Super fun to watch movies with.)

The rest of the story... well, it was creepy, for sure. Like the other shorts, it was full of cheeky stings and cheap jumps. The ghost was well used, sneaking into the background or creeping along the ceiling. Oh, and there was a creepy janitor thrown in for good measure, which every good horror movie needs, right?

I honestly wasn't expecting any of the shorts to have a happy ending so "Xiao Bao Bao" was a bit of a surprise. The girl helps the ghost return a lost blanket to the ghost's... niece? Sister? I'm not sure it's ever explained, but that's not really important. I just hope she learns her lesson about gawking at crime scenes. 


"Skin Deep"

"Skin Deep" is probably my favourite of the shorts. It involves a little black magic, a broken elevator, and a group of strangers who slowly figure out the building they're in is on fire. (Naturally, the Old White Guy is a total douchebag and the British couple just has to chatter with everyone.) As the smoke gets worse, a young woman with asthma starts to struggle, then her inhaler runs out. Eventually, a beautiful but aloof woman tries to sneak a puff on her own inhaler. 

Because there's always someone in a catastrophe who'd rather hoard and let other people die than inconvenience themselves, amiright? (Pandemic Lesson #1: People are assholes.)

*ahem*

When the others take the inhaler from her, she keeps insisting that she can't die there and ultimately reveals that she's used black magic to make herself beautiful and successful - but, unless she can remove the golden needles under the skin on her face to break the spell, she'll go to hell when she dies. She pulls out a knife and starts cutting herself open, much to the horror of everyone stuck in the elevator with her. (And me. I am not a fan of the body gore. I mean... cool effects, but gag!) There they are... the golden needles none of the others believed in. She can die in peace. 

Then the doors open and they're all free. Well, the rest of them are free. She ages rapidly and dies a withered old woman. A shot of her passport, which has fallen out of her purse, reveals her true birthday as the short ends.  

This might be the simplest of the shorts, since it doesn't rely as much on ghostly figures and the like, but it was the easiest one to watch. Simple story, brilliantly wrapped up, with a tasty bit of irony to seal the deal. Perfect.


"Rekindling"

The final short, "Rekindling," is my least favourite. It comes across as mundane and boring - though, in hindsight, the foreshadowing is actually quite good. I didn't much care by the end, though, because it just couldn't hold my attention. Too long to set it up, not enough payoff for the wait.

Long story short: guy proposes to girl, girl says no, guy kills girl and dumps her in the ocean. (That social commentary is so obvious I'm not even going to mention it.) Then, girl's ghost comes back - in pieces... and interesting combinations of pieces (And by "interesting," I mean dumb. A head with an arm attached? Why?) -  to torment him until the cops hunt him down and lock him up. 

Where he can't run away from Angry Ghost Girl.

The CGI is just terrible in this one, which is a shame because it's good throughout the rest of the movie. It's so bad it turns the ghost into a total joke and ruins any effectiveness it might have had. I really don't understand why this one short alone had such terrible CGI. 


But, anyway, back to the main story...

The friends watch each video as it's spawned from the depths of hell and decide to use one to ace the film project they're supposed to be working on (instead of, you know, getting drunk and burning cameras.) Before long, they opt for putting them all together into a movie they can sell instead. There's some in-fighting and, of course, the friend who keeps warning them that what they're doing is dangerous (only to be ignored.) The decide to burn just one more camera... which turns out to be one camera too many. The final film is theirs. We get to watch them watch their deaths play out in real time.

When the authorities arrive, they find a bunch of film, miraculously untouched by the fire that ravaged the house the friends were staying in. Only one thing to do with all that film, right? 

I'd say poor cops but, eh, they're cops. Could probably do with a good haunting...

Afterimages can be trippy in places, especially when they're watching the hell films, but it never gets so trippy that it's unbearable. Medium weird. The film excels at transitions, even from the start. I liked the movie's intro and it flowed effortlessly into the action. The whole movie plays like that, slipping in and out of stories so seamlessly that it never becomes jarring, despite the different styles and themes. 

Is it perfect? Well, no. There were a few niggling things that bugged me. For instance, in "Ghost Pool Leg," the security guard warns that the ghost needs a replacement but that doesn't seem to be the case. More like company. She isn't freed when the creepo dies so I'm not sure what that's about. They mention the same thing in the next short, but it's never utilized, then never mentioned again. It would have made sense to drop that bit altogether.

Also, they go from burning actual cameras to burning paper cameras somewhere along the line. Not the fancy ones you'd see for sale during Ghost Month, which are quite good, but the kind elementary school kids would make with construction paper and tape. I don't understand why it was important to burn actual cameras to start with, then crappy paper ones later - or why there was a massive pile of paper cameras at one point. Just seems sloppy.

My final complaint is about Kevin Lagrange as Deuce. For the most part, the acting was good, both during the main story and the shorts. Lagrange, though... his accent was so inconsistent that I'm still not sure if he just couldn't hold it, or if he spent half the film making fun of the Asians in the group. (I think I actually kind of hope he just sucked at accents because that would not be cool.)

I thoroughly enjoyed Afterimages. There are many things to recommend this one, with very little that works against it. There are plenty of brilliant jumps, clever foreshadowing, and some well-timed fake-outs. I know I said that I didn't like "Rekindling" and I didn't. That's just how anthologies work; some stories will be more to your taste than others. It didn't annoy me so much I wouldn't recommend Afterimages. Solid 5/5, despite its flaws.

Saturday, 14 August 2021

Movie Review: Jungle Cruise (2021)

I have to be honest, Jungle Cruise (2021) wasn't my choice. When I saw the trailer, I thought, 'Gah. Dwayne Johnson looks ridiculous in that getup.' But, I dithered (stupid decision paralysis) so I lost the right to chose. Jay picked Jungle Cruise and I'm so glad he did. It turned out to be a super fun way to waste the evening.

Okay... quick synopsis. Big guy in a rickety little boat helps woman in pants find magic tree. 

Maybe a longer synopsis? 

Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) is an intelligent, wise-cracking, ass-kicking feminist determined to find the Tears of the Moon, a magical tree with healing properties that will change the face of medicine forever. Her long-suffering brother (MacGregor Houghton,) played by comedian Jack Whitehall, gets dragged along for the ride and often steals the show as only younger siblings can. 

Lily and MacGregor need a guide through the Amazon and end up with the less-than-honest Frank "Skippy" Wolff (Dwayne "The Rock'" Johnson,) who has more secrets than a White House aid. He agrees to help them - with the occasional assistance from his "murder kitty," Proxima. Even though he's certain they'll be unsuccessful in their endeavour. 

Cue a handful of conquistadorial zombie... ghosts... undead baddies(?) along with a heaping helping of sexual tension between Dr. Houghton and Frank Wolff, a crazy Prussian prince with a U-boat (Jesse Plemons's Prince Joachim,) and (Did I mention Dwayne Johnson in his skimpy little captain's outfit?) you've got a swashbuckling adventure the whole family can enjoy. 

The cast is what makes Jungle Cruise work so well. Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt are both excellent separately so, putting them together was just pure magic. They're both brilliant actors who aren't afraid to have a bit of fun. Since they don't take themselves too seriously, they even sell silly roles like these. I really don't think this movie would have worked if you'd had "act-ors" trying to prove themselves, if you know what I mean.

And, of course, Jack Whitehall plays the perfect toff because... well, bless his heart, Jack Whitehall is the perfect toff. I also appreciate the inclusiveness of making MacGregor a closeted gay character in the Victorian era. (Better late to the party than never, right, Disney?) Plus, I just love how awkward Whitehall can be and his every interaction with Proxima the jaguar made me laugh.

Pretty much the moment they first showed Frank scamming customers on La Quila, I turned to Jay and said, "It's like they made this movie just so they could make a new ride at Disneyland." It felt like a movie made just to sell an attraction. Well, I guess I was kind of half right. Since I've never been to any of the parks, I can forgive myself for not knowing that Jungle Cruise has been around for... oh, a little while. (Like, 1955. Cringe.) 

We both agreed, watching Jungle Cruise, that even if they had made it just to sell tickets, it would be a freaking cool ride. Can anyone weigh in? Is the attraction as good as the movie? 

Okay, so if I had to rate this one (and I'm reviewing it, that's kind of the point,) I'd give it five stars BUT it's obviously not perfect. While the CGI is amazing in some places - take Proxima, for example - it's pretty shoddy in others. Certain little things like the bugs are kind of ropey, while the sweeping vistas are breath-taking. A little inconsistent. Considering Disney have the best of the best working for them, I'm not sure there's any excuse for inconsistency but, hey, it's better than I could do so who am I to judge, right?

The thing Jungle Cruise did best, in my opinion, was keep a secret. I was actually surprised by the revelation of Frank's true identity, which was a nice change. Too many movies use foreshadowing like a shovel to face. Jungle Cruise is much more subtle, just dropping enough hints to make you go, "Oh, yeah!" in hindsight. Makes it a much better experience if you don't see where it's going twenty minutes into the movie. 

And, of course, there's a happily-ever-after, which we are all desperately in need of right now. 

When we asked Jay's best friend, who'd seen the movie the week before us, if we should take the time to watch it, he shrugged and said, "Sure. Doesn't what it says on the tin." (That's a glowing recommendation from him, trust me.) I can't think of a better way to sell it. Jungle Cruise does what it says on the tin. You won't be disappointed. 

Unless, of course, you don't like Dwayne Johnson's sweaty, bulging muscles. *insert The Rock's style eyebrow raise here*

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Book Review: Lucifer's Bride (Married to the Devil #1) by Roxie Ray and Skye Wilson ** SPOILERS **

Lucifer's Bride (Married to the Devil #1) by Roxie Ray and Skye Wilson is a difficult book to review. It's camp and just plain silly in parts but also sexy as... well, Hell. 

This is one of those chocolate chip books--you know the ones that don't have as much substance as whole cookies but are tasty treats in a pinch? That's where the problem in writing a review lies. Who couldn't eat a whole damn bag of chocolate chips by themselves, right? Yummy, sure, but you're still missing out.

Let's get one thing out of the way before we dive into Lucifer's Bride. There are a lot of cunts, cocks, dripping, and throbbing! If that kind of thing offends you, maybe find another book. 

Luckily, I'm not that easily offended...

I enjoyed the romance, it was entertaining, the sex was great, and the characters were likable. It didn't dawdle. These are all things to recommend Lucifer's Bride. It's a fun book. Read it. 

Now, I'm going to say something that's going to come across as bitchy but isn't intended that way. Although Lucifer's Bride was good, it never lived up to its potential. (Gawd. I know, I know. I was training to become a teacher and sometimes it shows.) I would have traded some of the hot, intense sex for any of the following: 

1. More internal struggle from Luke. Dude. Your girl dies every time you meet her again. Rather than swaggering your way through each encounter, wouldn't it eat you up inside? (LJ Smith's Soulmate did a better job with that and no one ever got neked.) If he loved her that much, would he rush to get her killed again? Show us some angst to prove he actually cares.

2. Evie fighting harder against the whole you-must-obey-me-thing. A modern woman ought to have railed against that kind of command, especially an educated one, like Evie's supposed to be. It would have created more conflict and made the story more exciting. Instead, she just comes across as kind of weak-willed. 

3. Luke tearing Hell apart, looking for the person (or demon) who stole his wife's memory. Where's the uncontrollable rage that shocks and terrifies Evie in its intensity? He just pants after her like a horny dog, letting this massive risk to her life to go unchecked. Dick move, Satan. Protect yo girl.

4. Luke losing his mind, trying to keep from corrupting his sweet, innocent wife (because hello, The Devil, the drive to corrupt and destroy is as ingrained in him as a Kardashian's need to be in front of a camera)--but ultimately realizing that she's just as freaky and naughty as he is. Maybe more so. She's freaking Lilith, after all. Mother of demons? The Bible's original bad girl? Oh, she's totally worse than he is.

The narrative touched on that one in passing but didn't develop it, which was a damned shame. 

Anyway, so... my verdict is good, but not as good as it should have been. There's one last thing that lets Lucifer's Bride down, something I'm seeing so much of lately that it's become a personal pet peeve: the nice, happy ending, even though absolutely nothing has been resolved (and no real attempt has been made to resolve it,) just for the sake of a sequel. Stop. Doing. That. 

Fellow authors, I beg you to please, please, please stop ruining a decent story by stretching it out unnecessarily to sell more books. Write a solid, complete story, then publish it. Let it stand alone. When did endless sequels--often featuring every single side character they can squeeze in (Yes, I'm expecting every one of Evie's friends and every demon they love to get their own books. Groan.)--become the norm? Can we make it... I dunno... not

Okay, sorry, that was bitchy. Pet peeve. Moving on...

I enjoyed Lucifer's Bride and would probably have finished it in a single sitting if I didn't have the attention span of a gnat with ADHD. (Yay, Team Mental Illness.) It's fun enough to make up for what it lacks. Is that enough to make me go looking for the sequel when it's released? 

*sigh*

No, because I don't see any of the issues I had with Lucifer's Bride being resolved in a second book. If I'm wrong and you're reading this after the fact, let me know and I'll... Well, I probably won't. Honestly, unless the first book in a series blows me away, I rarely bother with sequels anymore. I would read more from these authors, though (as long as it's not flogging the whole Hell thing to death.)

Saturday, 23 January 2021

Book Review: A Deal with the Elf King (Married to Magic #1) by Elise Kova

I plant my feet and refuse to let him make me feel small. I will be the bud that sprouts from the gray rock of this place. I will be the flower that blooms even despite his shadow.

Stumbling across A Deal with the Elf King (Married to Magic #1) by Elise Kova on KindleUnlimited was a bit like finding a FabergĂ© egg at a thrift shop. It's a real hidden treasure. 

A Deal with the Elf King has everything you could hope for in a fantasy novel: a well-developed world, plenty of action, a dash of sexual tension, and heaps of magic. It also has an extremely clever premise and deals with faeries in an original, unexpected way. I'm going through a fae phase at the moment so I've seen a lot of the same themes and images being repeated. This one bucked a lot of those expectations and offered something refreshingly original in their stead. 

I was immediately impressed with the premise of A Deal with the Elf King. Capton sits on the border between Midscape and the Natural World. Every hundred years or so a human woman is taken by the Elf King to be their Human Queen and ensure the next hundred years of prosperity for both their lands. Eventually, you learn that there aren't two but three lands (The Beyond) and, just as the Human Queen travels between the natural and magical worlds, the elf king travels between the magical world and the world of death. 

Even if the rest of the book was awful, that kind of originality would have been enough to earn it at least three stars. 

It wasn't, by the way. The rest of the book was flawless. 

There's so much to love about this story! For starters, the language is as carefully crafted as the setting and just as beautiful, while remaining accessible for reading levels from YA and up. There's some question over whether this one falls into a YA or NA category. I'm going to say it's a strong NA. You've got sex and drugs but nothing is explicit. Of course, I'm nearly forty and I enjoyed every minute of it so maybe we should just call it a kind of one-size-fits all novel. 

The characters are what I love most about A Deal with the Elf King. They're fully developed, believable, and likeable. The Human Queen, Luella, has her own ambitions and goals--and has zero intention of giving them up just because the Elf King arrives to whisk her away. She's no cowering fool but a logical, down-to-earth hero who breaks an age-old curse with nothing but stubbornness and practicality. 

While her counterpart, Eldas, has the whole brooding, tortured soul thing going on at the start, his growth is pronounced and consistent. He's considerate, attentive, and sensitive--and who wouldn't fall in love with a handsome king who offers you both the chance to leave to make your own way and the means to return if you choose? 

The relationship between the Luella and Eldas is so, so sweet and just a little steamy. Neither are in danger of losing themselves to the relationship because they both know their own minds. It sets the target for what a good romance should be. I wouldn't have minded if the sex was more explicit, but it works well as it is. 

I really can't praise A Deal with the Elf King enough. It ticked every box for me, impressing me with its deep, flowing narrative, strong characters, and tender romance. It's also a one-off, which is a nice change these days. (I'm so sick of stories split into several parts, just for the sake of having a series.) There are books set in the same world, though, which I will definitely be looking for. 

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Book Review: Cursed Prince (Night Elves Trilogy #1) by C.N. Crawford

I've been reading a lot of stories lately based on traditional, European tales of the Fae so Cursed Prince (Night Elves Trilogy #1) by C.N. Crawford was a jarring departure from the familiar. It's based on Norse mythology, which is an interesting take but was a bit distracting because every time High Elves or draugr were mentioned, it took me out of the story. I kept thinking, Ooh, I should play Skyrim. The writing isn't bad(!) but, um, Cursed Prince kind of reads like Skyrim fanfiction. 

I mean... I love Skyrim and fanfiction so I should have enjoyed Cursed Prince more than I did. 

Which sounds worse than I intended. It was a quick, easy read that kept me interested. The problem isn't with what Cursed Prince has; it's with it doesn't have. Sadly, a lot. 

The characters are painfully underdeveloped. The only thing we know about the female lead, Ali, is that she's an assassin (who never assassinates anyone,) with a brother (who plays next to no role in the book,) and is obsessed with awful music. (The Rick Roll thing gets old really fast.) All we know about the male lead, Marroc, is that he's kind of a vampire (but not really,) is cursed, and has a massive secret. 

That really isn't a secret. At. All. The "twist" is painfully obvious, right from the start. 

Cursed Prince also lacks one massively important component for a romance: ROMANCE. The feels are non-existent. Ali and Marroc go on this massive adventure together and have plenty of opportunity to develop a relationship but it just doesn't happen. (Less frustration than disappointment.) You kind of get a little inkling at the very end that there should have been something there but... nope, nothing. 

The adventure is fast-paced, varied, and exciting. I can't fault any of that. I'm just saying that it should have served a purpose other than moving the characters from Point A to Point B. That's really all Cursed Prince does, unfortunately, move characters around a bit. The writing is decent enough that there's no excuse for such poor character development. 

I hate just coming down hard on a novel so I want to be clear that the writing is good. Not exciting or inspiring, but good. The action is good. It's a clever idea. Cursed Prince could have really been something. As it is, it's just... okay. I have no interest in reading the next book in the series, even though this one ends at a logical place and leads well into the sequel. Worth a read? Sure. Worth a series? Not really.