Ugh. I have a pretty high tolerance for mediocre fairy tale retellings and for generic historical(ish) romance, but Beauty and the Beast was a pretty painful combination of the two. At least I got it when it was offered for free—I suppose it’s a lesson in getting what you pay for!
The beast is actually more a werewolf—cursed by a witch for being cruel, he spends a year where he’s a human by day and a wolf by night. If he can’t get a woman to fall in love with his wolf form by the end of the year, he’ll be a wolf forever.
The woman (repeatedly and annoyingly referred to as a “gel” instead of a “girl” although there was no other vocabulary or dialect in the book to make this look like anything but a typo) is Cecelia, and she’s as silly and daft as the younger sister in an Austen novel. Yet we’re to believe she’s perfect, capable of somehow turning the beast into a man through his desire to be a better person for her sake. She and Prince Alex have known each other for a long time, and they’ve been awful to each other. But true love, miracles, etc. You know the drill.
One interesting twist is that the spell is broken about 2/3 of the way into the book, and then Alex has to convince Cecelia that he really is the wolf without her ever seeing the transformation. Luckily he accidentally solved that issue earlier when he inadvertently signed his name to a hidden note.
Words are misused, sentences don’t flow properly, and there are minor usage errors. And LOTS of adjective and adverb abuse.
SPOILER ALERT: Thing you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
As in many historical(ish) romances, girls exist to get married. In the interesting ones, the girls learn how to be more than that. Not so much here. She is fulfilled when she marries the prince and has a bunch of babies. The end. All of her drama is around love and husbands. There’s just nothing else at all here. She is often reminded to behave like a proper lady, and while she may have some spirit, she only fulfills expectations in the end.
The book opens with the prince turning into a wolf for the first time—a painful experience with much tearing of skin. Simultaneously, the witch who cursed him is dying. By the end, I was more confused than at the beginning about what happened to her. At first she seemed to be dying from injuries. Then it was suggested it was the prince who killed her, but then apparently she fell off a cliff. So, maybe he pushed her off a cliff and then rushed to the bottom to watch her die? I don’t know. But this guy? He’s our hero. Later he accidentally strangles his cousin to death with one hand. By accident. Of course, that cousin had just stabbed him in the side with a huge kitchen knife after intending to do the same to Cecelia, so no big loss. But I don’t think it’s easy to accidentally crush the life out of someone with your hand.
There’s pretty much nothing else but romance in this book (except for some killing). There’s some kissing, and Cecelia snuggles a LOT with the wolf alone in the dark after sneaking out of her house when no one knows where she is. She tells Alex “No” when he’s kissing her and she asks him to leave, but he doesn’t let her go and she doesn’t seem to actually want him to. Basically, Cecelia embodies tons of things you don’t want to enforce to your tween/teen daughter about male/female interactions. “Sneak away to secluded spots with strangers behind my back! And make sure that when you say ‘No’ he realizes you mean ‘Try harder to convince me’.” Yeah, great messages.
Like Disney’s take on the tale, the story is all about redemption through transformation. Sometimes that transformation is only in perception, like Alex suddenly realizing the annoying twit is actually the most perfect woman in the world, or Alex suddenly realizing that the witch who cursed him and died for her trouble is actually terribly wise and did him a huge favor and now deserves monuments and rose gardens in her memory. His own transformation comes when he realizes what a horrible bully he’s been and he tries his best to become a better person. Then he has to convince Cecelia that he’s changed.
Cecelia does realize that living to spread gossip and scandal may not be the best way to earn friends, but her problem is solved by getting the prince to fall in love with her so no one will dare gossip about her in public again. I never really did get why we’re supposed to think she’s so perfect except that she’s pretty and has attitude.
There are SO many better retellings of “Beauty and the Beast” that you could read. Don’t waste your time on this one. If you must, it’s appropriate for readers of ages maybe 11 and up as long as they’re into totally overwrought romances and you’re happy with awful rolemodels.
Beauty and the Beast by Jenni James
Published in 2012 by StoneHouse Ink
Part of the Faerie Tale Collection
Read on my Kindle, thankfully as a free download