January 20, 2012

Book Review: Beauty by Robin Mckinley

The Deal: Grace, Hope and Beauty are three sisters that lead a comfortable life in a seaside city where their father has a successful shipping business.

Beauty - who's real name is Honour but was bestowed the nickname at a young age and then turned out to be the least conventionally pretty of the three sisters (or so she thinks) - is the scholar of the three and  barely notices when Grace's suitor Robbie - a promising young captain - leaves on a journey that promises to bring him fortune, as she is much too occupied with her studies.

A few years later, their father's business takes a turn for the worse and Robbie is presumed dead, so the whole family leaves the city and journey to the woods, casting their luck with Hope's suitor Gervain, who is a blacksmith.

Far away from everything familiar, they start a new life, even if Beauty's father aged overnight after his fortune failed and Grace still pines away after Robbie,. Beauty and Hope keep their spirits up and soon they find themselves quite content in their new lives. Until a couple years later, when news from the city come saying that one of the ships has returned.

The girls' father makes the journey back to the city and  on his way back home he gets lost in the woods and finds a castle and end sup making a bargain with the Beast that lords over the castle: come back in a month - alone or with one of his daughters to take his place - or die.

Knowing she's the only one that can be spared from the house's work and oddly believing the Beast's promise that he won't harm her, Beauty decides to take her father's place. 

My Thoughts: I'm a sucker for all things Beauty and the Beast, it's one of my most beloved stories and story devices. I had heard a lot about McKinley's version - particularly from Heidi from YA Bibliophile - and I finally decided to try it out.

I loved it.

Even though it's a story that I know well and that I've read in many incarnations, this one felt fresh and it had a lovely feel of "old-times" though the actual settling of the story is never mentioned. I liked Beauty and how practical she was. I really liked the Beast.

And I even liked the secondary characters, particularly Hope and Grace and Gervain. In characterization, I think the story is a winner.

I had a two problems with Beauty, though. To start with, the settling is never mentioned but certain commonplace works of art and literature are - like Jane Austen's works or Shakespeare and several greeks - and when they were mentioned, it was a bit jarring because the story has an over all fantasy feel.  And secondly, the end was abrupt and I felt like I needed a little bit more, plus I would have liked a bit more explanation about how the curse worked.

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