A Curse So Dark and Lonely Book Discussion: Would People Really Believe in the Existence of a Made-Up Country?

A Curse So Dark and Lonely Discussion on Made-Up Countries

Spoiler warning for A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer. I think the details discussed are relatively minor (I’m not giving away major plot points, twists, the ending, etc.), but if you like to know practically nothing about a book before beginning to read it, you’ll probably want to pass on this post.

As I was reading A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer recently, I found myself enthralled by the romance but slightly skeptical of some of the political machinations.  Then I came across a review on Goodreads that had one major complaint I hadn’t thought fully about: that a decent part of the plot revolves around the protagonist (who is from Washington, D.C. but pulled into a parallel world into the country of Emberfall) convincing the people of Emberfall that she is from a country in their world that she has completely invented, Disi. The Goodreads reviewer argues that this is a ridiculous plot devise and it’s absurd to think people would accept this story from the protagonist.  But…it is really that absurd?  Are there circumstances where a decent percentage of people would believe the protagonist was from a country they’d never heard of before?

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As we begin to address this question, I think we first need to address two main issues:

  1. We’re probably used to fantasy worlds where there are roughly five major countries.  Fantasy worlds, likely for the convenience of the author, tend to be small, and in that case it does seem laughable that someone would not be familiar with every single other country in existence.  For the sake of this discussion, however, we should imagine a world more like ours, which (Google informs me) has 195 countries currently.
  2. We need to remember A Curse So Dark and Lonely takes place in a medieval-esque world where getting information on what countries exist is not as a simple as asking Google.

Next, we should keep in mind some aspects of the plot of A Curse So Dark and Lonely:

  1. The borders of Emberfall have been closed for about five years, and practically no information has come in or out.
  2. The people are poor, desperate, and hungry and facing a possible invasion from the country directly to their north.

So, if the protagonist comes along and tells people that she is the Princess of Disi (a country they have never heard of before…because she made it up) AND that her father has a powerful army he would like to bring to their aid, is it plausible that characters would actually believe her?  Is it reasonable they wouldn’t start laughing and tell her they’d never heard of Disi and clearly she’s lying?

Actually, I think yes.  I think under these circumstances that many people would believe in DIsi.

In a medieval-esque world, the common people are likely not very educated.  They probably are not literate.  They probably don’t know much about geography beyond their own borders or what tales travelers bring.  In our own world, the average medieval peasant would not have known a great deal about far away places like the Middle East, Asia, or Africa (nevermind the very existence of North and South America).  If someone came to a village in medieval England and told a commoner they were from a kingdom the commoner never heard of before, I don’t think that would have struck them as odd. There were plenty of places and kingdoms they didn’t know much about.

Now add to this the particular details of the plot of A Curse So Dark and Lonely. The borders of Emberfall have been closed for a couple years.  In that time, it’s possible the kingdom of Disi had actually arisen, completely new, and no one had heard the news.  Also, Emberfall is in poverty and on the brink of war.  The people want to believe the Princess of Disi is going to bring her army to save them.  They have no immediate reason to think she’s lying, and they have plenty of reason to hope she’s telling the truth.

This is contrast to the more educated characters in the novel, some of whom are a bit more suspicious about the sudden appearance of a princess from a kingdom they’d never heard of before.  These people are probably literate, might have had access to world maps, and know enough of politics and court intrigue to realize there could be a motive for making up a princess with a powerful army.

I still have questions with some of the politics in A Curse So Dark and Lonely, but I’ve decided I can buy into the idea that  bunch of peasants would believe in the existence of a country that…doesn’t exist at all. What do you think?


22 thoughts on “A Curse So Dark and Lonely Book Discussion: Would People Really Believe in the Existence of a Made-Up Country?

  1. Kelly | Another Book in the Wall says:

    This is such an intriguing discussion, Briana! I personally haven’t read this one yet, but I agree that it isn’t too far fetched to believe that this girl is capable of convincing these citizens that she comes from an inexistent country. Without having the proper education nor means of receiving word of foreign affairs to look up this fictional kingdom, I can definitely imagine these people buying into her lie.

    Thanks for sharing this fun discussion, love! ☺️


  2. Kim @ Traveling in Books says:

    It’s absolutely plausible that people in a medieval setting would believe in a place that doesn’t exist, because people have always believed in places that don’t exist, and not believed in places that do exist. Myths and legends are full of places that people once truly believed existed. Even now, it doesn’t take long to find flat-Earth conspiracy theorists online, where people believe they are living on a planet that doesn’t actually exist.


    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      This is a good point I hadn’t even thought of. If people believe in places that are, in fact, completely mythical, there seems no reason they would be surprised to hear of a new country. Presumably all the myths started with someone claiming the place was real, and once also people begin to corroborate the claim, there you go!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. alilovesbooks says:

    I can believe it. Given the level of technology and lack of transportation it’s unlikely people would travel far. Most would stay within their town or region with only senior figures or merchants travelling across borders.

    Also, even today there are certain countries a lot of people have never heard of so if someone was convincing enough (and Google wasn’t available) I’d bet they could still get away with it.


  4. Kim says:

    I agree that the people would believe her. Especially, as you said, if they lack information about their own geography. Though I would suspect someone, perhaps a noble or an advisor who is better educated than most, would be able to question the legitimacy of her story.


  5. GoodeyReads says:

    Very well thought out post! I agree, under THESE circumstances, it makes sense. They are desperate. And when people are desperate they could believe just about anything that might help them.


  6. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Such a great discussion to have- especially since I’ve just read this book and I was wondering the same thing!! Yeah I think the reason this wasn’t such a big problem was cos it was taking place in a fantasy world. Then again, one of the reasons I even thought about it as an issue was cos characters in the book wondered- multiple times- whether this trick would work (which felt too much like pointing out a flaw in order to minimise it as a flaw). So while I do agree with you that this plan could have worked, I feel like there were a couple of flaws with it (I also think it could have had more consequences- like her being found out at some point) Anyway, great discussion! 😀


    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I think the problem with being found out is that would mean saying she’s from a different universe only accessible by magic, which seems like it would sound even more ridiculous to the people in this book, especially since the fairies were supposed to be banished entirely from the country. I guess it’s hard for me to imagine someone going “It is ABSURD that you are saying you are from a country I’ve never heard of! But, hm, a whole universe I’ve never heard of before? Ok, sure.” :p

      Liked by 1 person

      • theorangutanlibrarian says:

        Yeah that’s a fair point as well. I think though it also could have meant that they’d know she didn’t have an army (although they also could have brought across a lot of heavy artillery from the real world- I figure even a few glocks would tip the scales in any war they were having- and kind of wondered why they didn’t do that. I mean, I’m sure there might have been reasons not to do this, but still 😉 ) hahaha fair point though!


        • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

          Yes, guns would be so useful! I bet they didn’t because the author had worries about the ethics/legality of teens obtaining guns or something. And Grey would be old enough but wouldn’t have the ID to get one legally in the US.


  7. The Repvblic of Letters says:

    I haven’t read this novel, but I think this was absolutely brilliant of the character to have made up a country! I think it is very plausible that people would believe in a country they had never heard of. In reminds me of when in the 90’s, readers of ‘Last Letters from Hav’ – a fictitious travel journal written by an actual travel writer – walked up to travel agencies and demanded to book flight tickets for Hav!


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