As children, we learn sunny, sanitized versions of fairy tales that always begin “once upon a time” and end “happily ever after.” It’s only when we’re older that we learn how the original versions of those stories, including those by the German folklorists Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, contained far more violence, cruelty and darkness. If the Brothers Grimm were still putting pen to paper today, they might conjure up something like Corey Ann Haydu’s Ever Cursed, a modern fairy tale of rage, revenge and power.
Princess Jane is the oldest daughter of the king of Ever. She used to believe her kingdom to be a loving and just place, but she and her four sisters lived a cosseted life in which the harsh realities just outside their castle walls have been carefully concealed from them. Then a young witch named Reagan placed Jane and her sisters under a powerful curse that would become permanent if it was not broken in five years’ time, on the youngest sister’s 13th birthday. Haydu brings readers into the story just before this momentous day, as Jane tries to lift the curse and Reagan reflects on her reasons for casting it in the first place.
Ever Cursed is at its strongest when Haydu employs all the trappings of traditional fairy tales—princesses and kings, witches and spells—to illustrate how men encourage divisions among women in order to diminish female power. Unlike in our world, magic in the kingdom of Ever can be deployed by women in order to silence or to save. As both Jane and Reagan discover their their families are not who they seem to be, Haydu’s tale treads a dark path, well-worn and lined with the familiar thorns of all the cruelties humans inflict on one another. Yet in its contemporary-minded depiction of the age-old battle between good and evil, Ever Cursed casts a bewitching spell indeed.