I’ve always loved YA books full of magic. Give me witches and wizards cracking open ancient spellbooks and shadowy murders where something supernatural lurks in the woods. I love dragons and yokai and mythical creatures, forest magic and fairy bargains full of tricks.
But most of all—bring on the curses!
Curses are a magic unlike any other, one with intricate rules and purpose, and they’re almost always deeply personal. A soul dies in rage and despair, swearing vengeance. A mortal wanders into a sacred, forbidden place and must pay the price for their transgression. A witch in disguise is turned out in the cold, or stolen from, or snubbed at a party. (Honestly, pissing off witches seems to be the number one way to get cursed!) Someone has been wronged—so now, someone has to make it right.
That’s what I find so fascinating about curses and curse breaking in books. Breaking a curse is never as easy as just breaking a spell. Curses are punishments, consequences, secrets, and sometimes even promises. They happen for a reason, and trying to undo a curse you don’t fully understand almost always goes awry. (Which can be fun, too!) In the end, breaking a curse is about uncovering a secret truth—or even just a secret place in your heart—and no one ever comes out the other side the same.
Here are five books with curses that ensorcelled me!
Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a spellbinding queer fairytale that follows a princess cursed from birth to be poisonous to the touch. Because of her curse, Soraya has spent her whole life hidden away in the shadows, safe only in her garden. As her twin brother’s wedding approaches, she crosses paths with a boy who’s not what he seems and a girl who’s more than she ever could have imagined, and finally seeks out the monstrous truth behind her curse and her power.
Melissa Bashardoust is an amazing storyteller! The intricate plot uncoils like a snake shedding its skin, revealing twist after twist, and the entrancing f/f love story will draw you in like a moth to the flame.
The Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinska
Caldella is a cursed island where every year, on St. Walpurga’s Eve, the Witch Queen must sacrifice an innocent boy to keep the island city from sinking. To save the boy she secretly loves, Lina Kirk, a young dancer, offers herself to the queen in his stead. Only the Witch Queen Eva is not what Lina expected, and the pull between them threatens to upend the magic of the island and reveal the awful truth behind the sacrifices and the Dark Tide.
Prepare to be glued to your seat by murderous witch girls, enchanted dancing, mysteries, revenge, and a deliciously dark and haunting f/f love story.
Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
In a world where the original Cinderella is long dead, the annual ball is no dream, but a nightmare where girls must make a match or pay dearly for failing to marry. Sophia is a fierce, queer heroine trapped by the cruel fate that awaits girls in her kingdom, but when she flees the ball and meets Constance, the last descendant of Cinderella and her stepsisters, the two girls decide to rise up and bring down the evil king.
No spoilers, but the curse at the heart of this book lies in the dark truth of Cinderella’s story—no fairytale at all, but a secret that has been poisoning Mersailles for generations. A captivating read full of mortal peril and f/f love with a chilling side of horror and awakening the dead!
Sweet & Bitter Magic by Adrienne Tooley
Tamsin is a witch who’s been exiled by the ruling coven for breaking one of the most sacred rules of magic. As punishment, she’s cursed with the inability to love. Wren is a rare magical being known as a source, who’s spent her entire life hiding her abilities. When a magical plague spreads across the land, the two girls strike a bargain to work together to stop it, all the while growing closer and closer in spite of Tamsin’s curse.
The characters are achingly beautiful, full of rich, complex emotions like loss, grief, love and desire. This book also has the perfect sunshine and grumpy vibe to melt your heart, and the story is filled with little fairytale references that are so much fun!
Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim
Six Crimson Cranes follows the story of Shiori’anma, the only princess of Kiata and the youngest of seven siblings. Shiori has a secret: forbidden magic thought to be lost runs through her veins. On the morning of her betrothal ceremony, a sudden twist of fate sends Shiori down the path to discovering her stepmother’s secret. When she does, she’s cursed to lose her voice while her brothers are turned into cranes. To break the curse, Shiori must work together with the betrothed she scorned, a paper bird, and a playful and powerful dragon.
This is a lush, gorgeous fairytale with characters full of heart and an absolutely swoon-worthy love story, but the best part of the book might just be the curse that’s so much more than it first appears.
Leslie Vedder is a YA author who loves girl heroes and adventurers. She grew up on fantasy books, anime, fanfiction, and the Lord of the Rings movies, and met her true love in high school choir. She graduated from San Francisco State University with a B.A. in creative writing, and currently lives in Colorado with her wife and two spoiled house cats.