I'm pretty much in love with Beauty and the Beast and am a sucker for all retellings, so of course I picked up Stacey Jay's OF BEAST AND BEAUTY. Overall, I found it up to par with some of my other favorites, and it stays faithful to the core of the story, but it also brought its own unique, sci-fi twists to the traditional mythology.
Here's the official summary:
In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret...
the domed city of Yuan, the blind Princess Isra, a Smooth Skin, is
raised to be a human sacrifice whose death will ensure her city’s
vitality. In the desert outside Yuan, Gem, a mutant beast, fights to
save his people, the Monstrous, from starvation. Neither dreams that
together, they could return balance to both their worlds.
wants to help the city’s Banished people, second-class citizens despised
for possessing Monstrous traits. But after she enlists the aid of her
prisoner, Gem, who has been captured while trying to steal Yuan’s
enchanted roses, she begins to care for him, and to question everything
she has been brought up to believe.
As secrets are revealed and
Isra’s sight, which vanished during her childhood, returned, Isra will
have to choose between duty to her people and the beast she has come to
I feel like it's a mix of UNDER THE NEVER SKY (which, if you haven't read it, go read it!) and the traditional Beauty and the Beast story, in that the Smooth Skin "beauty" (Isra) is a queen of a city under a dome, protected from the dangers and mutations of the outer desert where the Monstrous (and "beast," Gem) live.
*Updated to add: One thing that I especially loved about this retelling was Isra's imperfections, both physical and emotional. Generally, it's only the "beast" who must be redeemed, but Isra has her own prejudices and misconceptions to overcome. She's just as flawed as Gem, so they both have many things to learn about themselves and each other. I also found it a refreshing twist that, among her own people, Isra considers herself beastly, since she has a touch of the mutations that plague the Monstrous.
OF BEAST AND BEAUTY also echoes the timelessness and magical elements of Kristin Cashore's novels, and like Cashore, Jay has strong characterizations and very immersive writing.
Though the book wasn't a fast-paced read (it's very internal), I was definitely invested enough in the characters and their journey that I never grew bored. I recommend it for fans of fairy tale retellings, but it stands on its own for readers who aren't particularly enamored with the Beauty and the Beast story. (Oh, and it's excellent for anyone attempting to recover from the awful, awful, awful CW show that disgraces the name Beauty and the Beast.)
The "meh" news: My only complaint? The beast's name is Gem, and I kept thinking of the 80s and bedazzling. Not so helpful with the swoon at first! But I got used to it. And he was a great reluctant (and tormented) hero.
The good news: I rarely comment on covers, but I think the final one, pictured here (different from my ARC cover) really does the book justice! Cover win!
The great news: OF BEAST AND BEAUTY is available now! And you can win my ARC here!
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