Sunday, August 25, 2019

Beauty and the Beast Reviews: Liz Braswell's As Old As Time

I reread Liz Braswell’s As Old As Time on Wednesday, and it’s not a great work of literature or anything, but it sure is fun! This is a little different; it’s published by Disney, and is a retelling of Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast, not of the original fairy tale.
The premise, as advertised on the cover, is that the Enchantress who cursed the Beast is Belle’s mom. A good chunk of the story is comprised of flashbacks to when Maurice and the Enchantress (her name is Rosalind) were young, before Belle was born and when she was a baby. We have two big things happening in this back story: there’s a plague, and anyone remotely magical is being persecuted. The king and queen aren’t doing anything about either issue. So when they both die of the plague, Rosalind goes to test their son, to see if he’ll be a better ruler than his parents.
He fails. It’s possible she overreacts.
This is where a lot of the things I really love about the story come in. It addresses all the questions and concerns I had about the movie. The Beast is a 10 or 11 year old child when the curse is placed. The story and all the characters in it acknowledge that the curse was absolutely not an appropriate way to handle the situation, and was deeply unfair to both a child and a house full of servants who had nothing to do with anything. Which I really, really appreciate. The picture in the West Wing of an adult Prince is explained, too; it’s some really mean-spirited Dorian Grey crap, enchanted to show him what he would look like if he hadn’t been cursed.
Also, the Beast can read. We see him reading. I always hated the way the musical version made him illiterate; at 11 you should have learned to read. Especially as a prince. The only acceptable exception is The Whipping Boy.
So. Back to the story. Rosalind never returns home after placing the curse. She’s grabbed by the story’s Big Bad, who’s been kidnapping anyone with magic. We’ll come back to that subplot later. Her last act as she’s taken away is to set a spell that makes all normal people—including Belle and Maurice—forget about the existence of magic, to protect any of her people who are still free. Unfortunately, the Big Bad also has magic, so he remembers.
And I think that’s enough on the back story. Belle gets to the castle like usual. The change comes in the West Wing, when she manages to actually grab the rose before the Beast stops her, destroying it and any chance at breaking the curse.
(Afterwards, she points out rather callously that judging by the state of the rose, he didn’t have much time left anyway. Did he really think a girl was going to fall in love with him in the next couple months? She then proceeds to fall in love with him over the course of the next THREE DAYS. Also, the entire story, aside from the Maurice and Rosalind flashbacks, happens in three days. It’s a lot.)
This is when information about Belle’s mom starts coming out. They go through a bunch of old census records and fail to find anything about her, including her name, but they discover in the process that the local bookshop owner was in the census a few hundred years ago, and therefore probably knows something about all the magic stuff.
They head back to town to talk to him, and find him missing, with the book store burned down. We find out later that Gaston did it, and this was how he defended himself:
(A fire hazard, Gaston? Really?)
So they go to talk to Maurice next, and Belle has the Beast wait outside when she goes in the house, considering how their last meeting went. Except she never comes out; the big bad has her and Maurice now, too. The Beast sees where she’s being taken, but there are too many people for him to overpower.
He goes home for help, and finds that everyone is gone; the furniture and knick-knacks are just furniture and knick-knacks. The Beast himself has been struggling with animal instincts since the rose was destroyed; the curse is progressing.
With no other options, he goes to recruit the villagers for a rescue mission. He has the mirror, so they can see that Belle is in danger; they decide to deal with the whole Beast situation after rescuing Belle.
Meanwhile, Belle has gotten away, rescued her father, rescued her mother who’s been held her for a full decade, and released dozens of other prisoners.
And we’re into serious spoiler territory now, so I’m just gonna say the good guys win, Gaston kills the Big Bad, and everyone present is horrified, because he deserved a fair trial, Gaston!, which for some reason I just find hilarious.
Rosalind is seriously weakened by her decade of captivity. She says that the Beast isn't in danger of giving in to his animal instinct anymore because of his love for Belle. (Three days, guys!) But she has only enough power to either restore the Beast’s humanity or the humanity of all the servants. He chooses to restore everyone else’s humanity, of course, but it’s implied at the end that he and Belle are going to go on an adventure to find all the other magical people who went into hiding, and maybe one of them will be able to fix him.
Adorable awkwardness of Beast: Yes! He really gives off strong I-try-hard-but-my-life-basically-stopped-when-I-was-10 vibes. I love him!
Stand-Up-For-Herself-iness of Beauty: Good.
Human at the End: Nope.
Who Learns and Grows the Most? About equal.
Also, one more thing; have this conversation I thought was hilarious. Idk how the stove is drinking, exactly.

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Beauty and the Beast Review: Stacey Jay's Of Beast and Beauty

This book is…a lot. There are so many things to say about it.

So we’ll start with this: technically it’s sci-fi. It all takes place on another planet. None of the characters are technically aliens, but a lot of them are technically mutants, adapted to survive the new planet. But it doesn’t feel like sci-fi. It reads like a fantasy.

The second thing is a not-so-great one. Overall I really enjoy this book. I think it’s very clever. But this one thing—well. You don’t give little blind girls reading books a blind princess to relate to, then take away her blindness as part of her happy ending. That’s bad. That implies that you can’t be blind and live happy ever after.

There were people in the background—not present enough to be considered characters—who were missing both arms and legs. Who were missing chunks of their faces. Who weren’t exactly equipped to have good lives in a setting like this. And healing them, I guess I can understand better. It’s a quality of life issue. But the blind girl and the mute girl were awesome, capable characters who didn’t need to be healed to have happy endings, so to heal them feels almost cheap. It’s not solving a problem as much as it’s taking away valuable representation.

Okay. On to the good things.

The main characters are a beautiful young woman and a man described as “Monstrous.”

But it’s the man who attempts to steal a rose, the man who is held prisoner by the woman, and the man whose departure to help his family and delayed return nearly result in the woman’s death. It’s the woman who gets the transformation scene at the end when the man says “I love you.”

And all of this is done so cleverly that it doesn’t occur to you, for quite some time, that the roles have been reversed, that the woman is the Beast and the man the Beauty. Which I suppose is what comes of getting caught up in physical appearances in a story that’s literally about how deceiving physical appearances can be.

The Beauty and the Beast relationship is usually a very solitary one—just the two of them alone in an enchanted palace. Our girl here is a princess, though, and then a queen, with a court to manage and a city to care for. There’s a lot of political intrigue that a story like Beauty and the Beast doesn’t usually get into.

The story ends with the power of love bringing life to a dying planet, everyone’s disabilities erased, and everyone’s body changing in some way to better adapt to life on this planet. The characters are surprisingly nonchalant about major physical transformations. But it’s a fun story overall.

Adorable awkwardness of Beast: Sadly none

Stand-Up-For-Herself-iness of Beauty: Good

Human at the End: Not really, but that’s because a transformation did happen

Who Learns and Grows the Most? About equal

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Sunday, August 11, 2019

Beauty and the Beast Review: Lisa Jensen's Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge

This is the newest retelling of Beauty and the Beast I’ve read. It was a gift from a friend, and I’d been wanting to read it, but honestly if it hadn’t been a gift I might not have finished it.

It’s actually a really great book. But the beginning is extremely off-putting, and there’s not really a way around that—it needed to be, for the story to be able to develop the way it did.

So. Trigger warnings. Implied/referenced abortion, and rape. The first one I’m not going to dwell on, because it technically didn’t happen. But you spend a good chunk of the book thinking it did. (Well, I did. Now you don’t have to.)

But the other thing. Well. The prince who will become the Beast rapes our narrator. Not super explicit, because this is YA, but it’s very clear what happened, and it’s strongly implied that he’s done it to many other women in the past.

The only reason the book works is that there’s a complete disconnect between the Beast and the prince. He has no memory of what he did or who he was before the spell, which turned him into a Beast and our narrator into a sort of telepathic candlestick.

The fun thing about this book is that it spins out in a completely different direction from an other Beauty and the Beast retelling. Because we cannot allow the spell to be broken. Beauty isn't the main character, and though she’s a nice girl, she almost fills the role of antagonist—her entire time at the palace is spent hoping frantically that she won’t agree to marry the Beast, because we don’t want to lose our ugly amnesiac sweetheart to that evil prince.

Two important things to note for this story. The first is that this is one of the versions where our guy genuinely did something very wicked before being transformed—not some vague, undefined Bad Thing as in a lot of stories, and not Literally Nothing, as in the original novel. But this isn't a redemption story.

The second thing is that this is the first book in our series where the Beast is still a Beast at the end of the story. More and more often, the tendency is to be drawn more to the Beast, to want him to stay the way we first knew and loved him. Who is this hot guy? Give me back the person I fell for!

It’s especially pronounced here, since the prince and the Beast are essentially two different characters. But it’s a pattern that’s emerging in general—I call it “The Unothering of the Beast.” We’ll talk about this—and it’s implications—more as the series progresses.

Adorable Awkwardness of Beast: occasional

Stand-Up-For-Herself-iness of Beauty: abysmal, but we don’t care

Human at the End? No

Who learns and grows the most? The narrator, who is neither Beauty nor Beast

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Sunday, August 4, 2019

Beauty and the Beast Review: Robin McKinley's Beauty

I’ve read a lot of books. I’ve loved a lot of books. This is the first one I remember really, really loving—obsessing over, probably. I checked it out of the library dozens of times in middle school. It was the first book I was invested enough in to go out and deliberately track down other books by the same author—until then I had been content with whatever appeared on the library shelves.

Beauty draws from one of the versions of the fairy tale in which the Beauty has sisters, and turns things on their head by making her sisters kind and loving. Robin McKinley has no patience for jealous, wicked relatives—a trend that continues in her other work.

Beauty came out several years before Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and there’s been speculation that Disney took some of their ideas for the movie from Robin McKinley. Uncredited, of course. Beauty’s love for books and her horse, the Beast’s large library, and feeding the birds come to mind, specifically.

Beauty is not beautiful—she makes sure to tell us so several times in the first person narrative. “Beauty” is an unfortunate childhood nickname. Her given name is Honour.

The Beast gives off distinguished older gentleman vibes, when he’s not being awkward and adorable. He’s one of those Beasts that proposes every night, and the secondhand embarrassment is painful.

The Beast doesn’t even show up until about halfway through the book, but I’m never bored waiting for him, and I’ve always been much more interested in the Beast than the Beauty. The relationship is sweet and develops in a believable fashion. I especially appreciate how Beauty often feels like she isn't good enough for the Beast because of how poor and plain she is—it’s such a lovely, absurd detail as she falls in love with a man who isn't even human.

One of my favorite books of all time. Strongly recommend!

Adorable awkwardness of Beast: moderate

Stand-Up-For-Herself-iness of Beauty: good

Human at the End: yes

Who Learns and Grows the Most? Beauty

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