6th January 2011, David Fickling Books
272 pages, Paperback
Fairy tale of Beauty & the Beast, family ties, patience, perseverance, friendship, fear, compassion, determination, magic, enchanted house, amazingly gorgeous dresses, great food, nice grounds, loneliness, terror, love
Summary from Random House Children's Books
When the family business collapses, Beauty and her two sisters are forced to leave the city and begin a new life in the countryside. However, when their father accepts hospitality from the elusive and magical Beast, he is forced to make a terrible promise - to send one daughter to the Beast's castle, with no guarantee that she will be seen again. Beauty accepts the challenge, and there begins an extraordinary story of magic and love that overcomes all boundaries. This is another spellbinding and emotional tale embroidered around a fairytale from Robin McKinley, an award-winning American author.
I think that one of the Beast's invisible, meddling staff are responsible for this book being missing in a book parcel. I had the press release, but no book. Thankfully I was soon united with a copy. I loved Robin's Spindle's End, and was eager to read more of her work. I positively adore how she takes fairy tales and makes them seem so real. The world isn't our modern world, it's one where handcrafted goods were more common, where the rich had servants and the poor did everything themselves (okay, that does still happen now. But most people do not have a cow in their garden).
I love the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast (especially Belle's peasant dresses). There are no singing candlesticks in Beauty, but I wouldn't want them. I like how the book is set into parts: one for when Beauty's father was rich, telling of how he lost his fortune, and also when he met the Beast. Although her family was rich, Beauty and her sisters didn't seem too spoiled. If they had been, they would have complained an awful lot about their new and lower status in society. I got a real sense that they loved each other. Beauty claims she wasn't beautiful - perhaps not by society's ideal of beauty - but I think her sweet character shone through and she was very striking.
Part two was him explaining the Beast's request, Beauty deciding to go, and her journey there. Even knowing that Beauty would end up there, I enjoyed how her family tried to convince her not to go. They didn't understand the reason which Beast reveals to Beauty later on in the novel. Beauty had to go. She refused to let anyone dissuade her. In the final days before her departure, she grew sad at what she was leaving behind. Beast managed to use his magic and give her a great leaving memory. When she first entered the castle I was so excited - it really was an awesome fairy tale! I loved how the invisible servants saw her every need. The ones who choose her wardrobe have an elephant sized amount of character - they want her in fancy clothes, she wants to be in plainer ones. In later parts its really funny when they pick a particular outfit, and Beauty refuses to leave her room. Crying in the middle of it makes quite a scene for both the reader and the Beast.
Part three is her early life in the castle, as she gets to know the mysterious servants. She can't see them, and she only hears them occasionally. What she hears makes her curious. She wants to know what the huge mystery is surrounding the beast. She sees how he tries to shy away from her, but she's determined to get him to enjoy life, to be near animals. She succeeds in a lot of ways, and even gets to go home to warn her family about an upcoming disaster that could be avoided if they listen to her. Beauty's realisation that she is stuck in the castle is very clear when she gets upset to find her door locked at night. The damage she does to herself is noticed by Beast, and I think that's when he started to care for her. Equally emotional for me was the night where she got in a bit of a state and fainted, then freaked out when she realised she was lying on his lap. I felt as if I was Beauty, scared of the Beast (even though I knew he was gentle). I confess to crying at the end - it was such a beautiful ending! I do still cry at the end of the Disney version too :)
There is one little area of the book which I wasn't the happiest about. We all know Beast became a beast through magic. It is explained the magic is from a magician. There wasn't actually any magician in Beauty's world. I had wanted/expected some opposition to add an element of danger to it all. There was the idea that Beast would die if Beauty left him. This wasn't quite enough. The cause of the enchantment was nicely explained, but it didn't come to a fruitful conclusion because the magician never appeared again. I'm not suggesting he should have been the focus of the story, but I really would have liked to seen him get his comeuppance.
That aside, I absolutely love this book! Robin hasn't written a duff book yet (not that I've read them all) and she's the one I go to when I'm in the mood for traditional fairy tales retold in a fun and exciting way. Oh, I'd really like some of Beauty's rose seeds, since I'm terrible at growing things and have killed a few cacti.
Delving into Beauty's life is perfect when I'm in a fairy tale mood - of the original variety which I grew up with.
Be sure to check out more information about this and Robin's other books on her website.
Suggested read: Spindle's End, the story of sleeping beauty (no animals parading around in cloak, boots and hats.)