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?
As we begin to address this question, I think we first need to address two main issues:
- 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.
- 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:
- The borders of Emberfall have been closed for about five years, and practically no information has come in or out.
- 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?