This’ll be a short intro. I LOVE Beauty and the Beast. It’s my favorite old school Disney movie and probably tied for favorite all time (with Tangled, of course). And don’t even get me started on the new live action with Emma Watson…it’s perfection. Plus, on top of loving Beauty and the Beast, I do love a good retelling. So this one was pretty much a no brainer for me. And boy was I right.
We all know the story of Beauty and the Beast. Long, long ago, a young prince was cursed – in most cases because he was kind of a spoiled jerk. Along comes Beauty, a young woman with a heart full of books and adventure, who (for various reasons but almost always coming back to saving her single father in some way) ends up imprisoned by the Beast. Over time they get to know each other, things soften, Beauty helps Beast break his spell…and happily ever after!
“She closed her eyes and listened with her soul, and from deep within the hollow of the cave she heard the Beast’s song, the pulse of magic he’d taught her to hear. It was low and sweet, heavy with pain and age and the blurring of time. It held hints of things long forgotten, of stories and words and dreams and, most of all, desires. The song wanted. It wanted in the way Yeva had always wanted, wanted not so much a thing as everything, something beyond naming, something more than, different deeper.”
This retelling does a wonderful job sticking to the general story we all know and love, but the changes Spooner makes are some of my favorites. First, the duality of the Hunter/Hunted. There is a great back and forth between Beauty and the Beast regarding which is which. Throughout the story they each play both roles in different ways and at different times for each other and the nuance in the changes was well written. Relatedly, while I do love the traditional nose-in-a-book Beauty, I liked that this Beauty (aka Yeva) was more of a “I’ll go find adventure myself and to hell with actually life and responsibilities,” as opposed making do with finding that adventure in books and then sort of accidentally falling into one with the Beast. (But don’t worry – the magic of stories and fairy tales is still very much a part of this tale.) This humanization, giving us an emotional and selfish and flawed heroine, was quite refreshing. Yeva’s hunting abilities and how they affect her role within her family (which is larger than the traditional father-daughter dynamic by two sisters) add great extra dimension. But the special bond she has with her father, hunting related, in this case, is a lovely nod back to the original.
As far as the Beauty/Beast dynamic, can I just say that the pacing was spot on. This is the type of slow burn “romance” that, since we all know what’s coming eventually, tends to get rushed so we can get to the good part. But no, Spooner nails that drawn out relationship building. And there are extra twists and turns thrown into the mix, like the death of Yeva’s father and the way the curse manifests, that allow for it to take that long without boring the reader. The back and forth perspectives of the narrative added nicely to that development; and the minimalist illustrations behind the Beast’s pages were a lovely visual addition. And finally, the ending. I mean, we all know what happens in a general sense, but the particular way that Yeva and her Beast finally truly “find” each other, “break” the curse, and the calling the binds their hearts together is original and alive and wonderful. And it’s something that so many people can really, truly, identify with. I thought it was really extraordinary and, after reading the afterwards in which Spooner talks about how important this story is to her, I definitely felt and understood that connection in her writing.
Overall, this was an entertaining, adventurous return to a timeless story. Revisiting the twists and turns of this story that holds a special place in my heart, along with the experience of Spooner’s new angles and details, was everything I was hoping for. If you have a soft spot for retellings, Beauty and the Beast, or magical romances that leave you feeling warm and fuzzy, then I definitely recommend this novel.