Meet Alys, eldest daughter of a merchant, a merchant who foolishly plucks a rose from a briar as he flees from the home of a terrifying fay Beast and his seemingly icy sister. Now Alys must pay the price to save his life and allow the Beast, the once handsome Philippe, to pay court to her.
But Alys has never fallen in love with anyone; how can she love a Beast? The fairy Peronelle, waiting in the woods to see the culmination of her curse, is sure that she will fail. Yet, if she does, Philippe’s sister Grace and her beloved Eglantine, trapped in an enchanted briar in the garden, will pay a terrible price. Unless Alys can find another way…
Publication details: 14 April 2022, by Queen of Swords Press. Review copy provided by the publisher.
Beauty and the Beast isn’t my favourite fairytale, or my favourite Disney movie, but it’s a story that I’m always drawn to retellings of, because I’m fascinated by how authors choose to reinterpret the elements that are less palatable in the modern age. Thankfully, Jones delivers on that front, in a few different ways.
Knowing that this book featured an aromantic heroine, Alys, was a big drawcard of this book. The representation isn’t explicit – unsurprising given that this book is set in the 1700s, when such words weren’t available – but Alys does very conceptualise that she has never and will never feel romantic love for others, and that this doesn’t make her broken or defective, just different from her sisters, who cannot wait to marry. She stands true to this throughout her time with the Beast, even when pressured, and while I won’t spoil the ending, comes to realise that other, non-romantic relationships can be equally important. There’s also a highly plot-relevant sapphic relationship between the beast’s sister, Grace, and another character.
The other thing I found interesting about this book is how it deals with the Beast’s… well, beastly nature. Rather than trying to humanise him, this book clearly calls out abusive behaviour where it occurs (not just from the Beast but from others), and makes it clear that this is considered unacceptable. It’s not a huge theme of the book, but it’s a nice touch compared to the ham-fisted way the topic can sometimes be treated in retellings.
While I really valued the representation and themes in this book though, I have to acknowledge that it never really excited or surprised me – hence why I’m only giving it 3 stars. The narration is somewhat overwrought and rather distant; I felt like I was watching this story from a distance rather than truly experiencing Alys’ full emotional discoveries as she slowly came to understand herself better. Part of this is the decision to use multiple POVs to tell the story; some of the side characters reveal things to the audience before Alys works them out, which I felt undercut the experience of seeing her react to deceptions and betrayals the reader already knew about. The setting is also rather generic; this book is set in roughly 1700s France, like the original story, but it could have been set in any generic medieval place and it would have been hard to tell the difference.
All that said, I’m glad to see that the already diverse range of Beauty and the Beast retellings continues to be expanded, and it’s worth checking this book out – particularly if you’ve never read a book with an aromantic heroine before.