Publisher: Delacorte Press
Age Group: Young Adult
Source: Won from Random Buzzers (thanks!)
In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret...This is one of my favorite fairy tale retellings ever. Of Beast and Beauty just completely blew me away with its gorgeous prose, intricate setting, and complex characters. As its own story, not even as a retelling, it is a beautiful book.
In the domed city of Yuan, the blind Princess Isra, a Smooth Skin, is raised to be a human sacrifice whose death will ensure her city’s vitality. In the desert outside Yuan, Gem, a mutant beast, fights to save his people, the Monstrous, from starvation. Neither dreams that together, they could return balance to both their worlds.
Isra wants to help the city’s Banished people, second-class citizens despised for possessing Monstrous traits. But after she enlists the aid of her prisoner, Gem, who has been captured while trying to steal Yuan’s enchanted roses, she begins to care for him, and to question everything she has been brought up to believe.
As secrets are revealed, Isra will have to choose between duty to her people and the beast she has come to love.
And even though it's a retelling, the characters are so unique. Isra, especially, doesn't fall into the usual fantasy heroine trope (of an emotionally disconnected badass- which, while I love characters like that gets tiresome when all characters are like that). She's sensitive and doubtful of herself, desperate for freedom, but terrified to fight for it. Isra is far from perfect, but her journey to bravery is that much more poignant for it. Gem, meanwhile, is full of anger and grief, but as he learns from Isra, the reader gets to see how much he cares for his people. Even Bo, the Gaston to Isra's Belle, isn't drawn in black and white- he's infinitely more interesting than that.
The story is told from all of their perspectives and when it came to Gem and Isra (they tell the majority of the book), I could not stop reading. I would set out to read one more chapter, but would end up reading another fifty pages instead. Bo's perspective is rarer, which was fine by me. While his first few chapters are interesting, they drag towards the end.
One incredible aspect of this book is its setting. Isra lives in a domed city called Yuan, which is surrounded by a barren and dying desert (Gem's home). There's class conflict, as well as conflict between the Smooth Skins and the Monstrous. And all of it is born of the mysterious, magical roses that grow inside the dome. Needless to say, this setting has all the dark enchantment of an original fairy tale (before they were Disney-fied) and it emphasizes how high the stakes are for Isra and Gem. The only thing that confused me was the sci-fi angle. I know that Of Beast and Beauty has been advertised as a science fiction retelling, but there's no mention of anything sci-fi-ish until about page 250. If the (relatively small) sci-fi angle had been left out, the book could stand as a high fantasy, easily.
As I mentioned above, though, this is one of my all time favorite retellings. Why? Well, it includes all the best aspects of the original Beauty and the Beast (an outcast heroine, a Pride and Prejudice romance, magic, etc.), while including some awesome twists. For one, Isra (Beauty) is holding Gem (Beast) captive, instead of the other way around. There's also the inclusion of legends and rituals, conspiracies and sabotage. And unlike the Disney movie we all know and love, there's no guarantee of a Happily Ever After which means a lot of suspense.
Of Beast and Beauty releases this week, so go pick up a copy! But just warning you, once you do, you won't be able to put it down.
For Fans Of: Ice by Sarah Beth Durst
What is your favorite retelling?