Book Reviews 2014 · Retelling of Fairytales Books · Young Adult Book Reviews

‘Beauty’ by Robin McKinley

Beauty has never lived up to her name. Pale, thin and awkward, she has no interest in pretty gowns or handsome suitors, and spends most of her days lost in the books that are her most treasured friends.

But that is all about to change. For when Beauty’s father loses his way in the dark forest and finds himself in the clutch of a terrible Beast, Beauty becomes entangled in a story more bewitching than any she has ever read: one of bitter revenge, dangerous magic, a powerful curse and of a love so transcendent that it can reveal the true beauty in everything.

3 Stars

Once again, I find myself reviewing a Beauty and the Beast retelling. It was Goodreads that recommended this to me when I finished ‘Beastly’ by Alex Flinn, which I loved very much (review here). I do not often read fairytale retellings, but I loved ‘Beastly’ (and ‘Sisters Red’ by Jackson Pearce, based on Little Red Riding Hood), so I had every intention of reading this book, even before I found it for 50p in my local charity shop (yes, I buy a lot of books there!). Basically, I had very high expectations for this book, which I could not wait to pick up and read. Upon finishing this, I’m not entirely sure how I feel.

The story sticks pretty close to the general tale of Beauty and the Beast; the girl’s father commits a deed and in return has to offer up his daughter to a ‘Beast’, a human trapped in an animalistic form due to a curse, and who keeps the girl in his castle out of loneliness, and the hope that he could meet someone to fall in love with to remove his curse. In fact, ‘Beauty’ follows the above synopsis exactly. This means that it would have to do a lot to stand out amongst all of the other identical stories out there. For me, it didn’t make its mark, as very little actually felt new to me, and I always had the feeling that I was rereading, as I had read, seen or heard all of the storyline before in many different, often more original, ways. I never got this feeling with ‘Beastly’ by Alex Flinn, as while a lot of aspects seemed very familiar, the ideas were fleshed out with original content. I feel like I got nothing new out of ‘Beauty’.

This book is split into three parts; part one is around 60 pages, part two around 50 pages and part three more-or-less 150. As you can see, part three does not occur until almost halfway through the book, which is a problem, as part three is where the interesting story actually begins. The first two parts revolve solely around Beauty’s family (or more accurately, Beauty ironically complaining that she is not as beautiful as her sisters). It took me a week to reach the 100 page mark, which for me is unbelievable considering that it was one of only two books I was reading this week. I just could not get interested in it to begin; there was no plot. We were ‘treated’ to so much information about what her sisters looked like, yet I still got Grace and Hope muddled up right through until the final quarter. We heard all about her fancy house in the city, her not-so-fancy cottage in the country, who her sisters were marrying and a lot of information about her father’s ships. I quickly reached the conclusion that I did not care. Beauty came across as self-absorbed and incredibly dull.

By the time I had finally reached the third part, I was having to force myself through, however I have to say that once Beauty reached the castle where she met the Beast, I began to enjoy this book more. The Beast was a delightful character, and the idea of having invisible ‘spirits’ as maids was a nice, if unexplained, little touch. When Beauty was not comparing herself to her sisters, the conversation between herself and the Beast was lovely. After the climax (which was actually rather anticlimactic) things started to trail off, and the actual ending, which is the key moment in Beauty and the Beast, was rather rushed, with very little explanation as to the curse on the Beast, his life before, the spirit maids Lydia and Bessie or anything which I actually wanted to know the answer to.

Certain elements of the story actually made me very confused. Firstly, the time period. This story was clearly meant to be set a long time ago, with emphasis on travelling on horseback for months and reading in Latin. However, small elements, such as the early line “stubborn refusal to co-operate with the curling iron” (I do not know the history of hair products but it just seemed overly modern to me in comparison to the rest of the book) and the general way in which the characters communicated gave me the impression of a much later setting than I think was intended, for reasons that I cannot always explain. Either way, I just would have liked the book to maintain a strong sense of time period. Also, the history behind the Beast, Lydia, Bessie and the curse in general was never explained. I would have loved to hear about how the curse got put upon the Beast, or how Bessie and Lydia came about, among a lot of other questions about the magical aspects. The conclusion gives me the impression that we shouldn’t need a reasoning to any of the magic, purely as it is magic, and magic does not need an explanation. This annoyed me, as I was left with so many questions that I cannot fathom an answer to. Another thing that left me very confused was the timing. The story jumped about a lot in time. The story could well jump a matter of days, weeks or even months within the same page, and leave me very confused as to where we were with the story, how long Beauty had been in the castle, or what on earth had occurred in the meanwhile. It all felt very stilted and jumpy, and I never got my head around it.

The author’s writing was okay, but certain tiny aspects frustrated me probably more than they should have. She was very, very fond of using colons and semi-colons; I found one section with four semi-colons in a short paragraph. The fact that i found an issue with this means a lot, as I am a persistent semi-colon user myself, but it began to wind me up a lot when I found colons and semi-colons in places where a new sentence altogether would be preferable. Also, there was so much description of tiny details, such as the gems on her dresses, that I sometimes found myself skipping large sections of description just to get to an actual event. I have read many authors guilty of this, and it doesn’t always necessarily ruin my experience of a book, but I feel obliged to point it out this time, as it began to annoy me a lot by the end, where I skipped four pages of adjectives to tell us about a bag full of luxury items. Hearing about it just didn’t appeal to my inner tomboy, I suppose.

Saying all of this, I did like the story once the Beast had been introduced, and the romance element was quite nice, which is good praise from me, a notorious skeptic when it comes to romance. This warranted two of the three stars that I actually gave this book.

I finished this book feeling very uncertain about my feelings; it was a nice enough story, but I could find way more negatives than positives. At the end of the day, I am not sure that my 3 star review will stick, but for the moment I will stay in my ‘I cannot make up my mind’ stance and leave it with a tad more generosity than I think it actually deserved. If anyone asked me for a Beauty and the Beast retelling, I would direct them to ‘Beastly’, rather than here.

Twitter @emmathereader




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