Of Beast and Beauty Review
If anyone knows me, they know I love story book retellings. Typically, though, I'm skeptical about Beauty and the Beast retellings; they could be cute, or they could easily end up creepy. Something about this book caught my eye, though, and I quickly realized it was probably the furthest rewrite from the original that I've ever read.
Despite its origins, this book is not a fairy tale. It's dark and twisted and keeps the reader guessing at every turn.
Of Beast and Beauty's main protagonist is a young woman named Isra, who is the blind queen of Yuan-- a small city trapped in a bubble and surrounded by dangerous deserts filled with the infamous Monstrous. Due to a fire caused by her insane mother when Isra was four, Isra has been blind the majority of her life, and believes herself to be "contaminated"--in other words, becoming a Monstrous. For these two reasons, her late father's commander leads in her stead, having the respect of the council and Yuan while she's written off as batty, just like her mother was.
Gem is a Monstrous determined to steal roses from Yuan's famous garden in order to take its magic--the magic believed to be holding the city together--and save his people. His people are of the desert, having grown scales and claws in order to protect themselves out in the heat, and are quickly starving to death. When Gem sneaks in with his brother and father to steal from the garden, he runs into Isra, almost killing her before he and his family are caught.
Gem's father spins a story, and basically, in the end, Isra contracts Gem to help her fix an area of the garden that will put off the "contamination"--though both Gem and his father know such a plant doesn't exist.
This is where it gets interesting. Already, Jay as set the groundwork for a story completely transformed from the original; instead of a nice provincial town, Isra lives in a town on a planet away from the destroyed Earth, trapped in a dome which is given life only from the sacrifices of the Queens of Yuan--a toll which the roses keep reminding her is almost due to be paid.
And instead of a secretly-nice prince-transformed-monster, Gem is a Monstrous--really, a human who has grown and adapted to desert life and who wishes death on the city of Yuan if it will help preserve his own village, including his baby son, whose mother left him for another.
It really can't get any different than that.
Obviously, this book had romantic aspects, but at the beginning it was hard to believe so, and for a while it seemed as if the author would omit the romance completely--after all, how could two people who were raised to hate each other so much come to actually care about each other in the end?
Admittedly, even as it went on and their relationship grew, it was slightly unbelievable. Maybe I'm not romantic enough, but how quickly they grew out of their hatred and the way they did--how he just loved her laugh and she just loved how warm and comforting he was--was a little too unbelievable. By the end, however, the reader really does care about the two and what happens to them, and hopes they can be together, which is kind of the whole point in romance, right?
Small Spoilers Ahead
There's one bone to pick about the romance, though. Sexual tension. One of the reasons the reader may find it hard to understand the romance is that, really, the first sign that there's romantic interest at all is when Isra and Gem are trapped in a cave in the desert and start making out. There had been hints that Isra was romantically interested in him from before, but there had been none from Gem before this point. All of his thoughts were getting the garden done, stealing the roses, and running back to his son. This is all understandable, the fact that this would be on his mind, but from his perspective, him suddenly making out with Isra was just surprising.
It wasn't hard to believe that poor, blind Isra--who has had no interaction with men in her age range besides Bo, her advisor's son--would be attracted to a tall, mysterious man. But what about Gem? He already had a son, and still felt heartbreak over the fact that his son's mother left him and married another, and all of his thoughts say he despises Soft-Skins--people like Isra--and doesn't care what happens to him.
In the end, though, the origin of Gem's emotions can be forgotten as he proves later on, time and time again, that he actually does care for Isra--though we may not be able to pick out the specific point it started before their steamy little moment in the cave.
There's no Gaston in this tale--the closest to Gaston would be Bo, the advisor's son.
Bo is arrogant and misguided, but he's not a complete evil--mostly, he's controlled by and terrified of his dad, so who can blame him for simply following orders? Despite this, Bo does want to be king--and he wants Isra to be his queen, though he hates the fact that her life span will be so short, due to the sacrifice Isra must make to the garden in order to keep Yuan alive and healthy.
The scariest thing in this book is not the desert or the Monstrous, but the fact that Isra's enemies are so real. She's a victim to the council and her advisor and Bo--she's powerless to stop any of them from doing as they please, even though she is the queen. Her advisor convinces them all she's mentally unstable and unfit to rule, and they immediately believe it.
One of the most infuriating and darkest--in my opinion--moments in the book is when Isra finds out that the contract that demands sacrifice from royalty of Yuan does not specify that it has to be the queen that gives the sacrifice; as soon as the King and Queen are married, both would be able to give their lives to the garden, yet in the 300 years that the contract has been followed and sacrifices given, it has always been the Queen that sacrifices herself.
It's dark because, if that were to have happened in real life, that's exactly how it would play out. Already Isra was going to be forced to marry despite her young age, against her wishes. And she was going to be forced to sacrifice herself because, to the council, the Queen's life was worth less than a king's.
Overall, if you like the original tale, you may not like how far this one has changed from it. Then again, if you're looking for a good science fiction romance with a disabled protagonist, this will be right up your alley.
This book is a quick, entertaining read that will keep the reader's attention to the very end and have them caring for the characters immensely.
"She's a queen; I'm her prisoner. I am her monster and she is mine..." -Gem, Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay
What are some fairy tale rewrites that you've enjoyed? What stories would you like to see written about more? Let me know in the comments!