What some might call beauty, I find monstrous’
In the age of the Faerie Queene, Elizabeth I, Lord Francis Rodermere starts to lay waste to a forest.
Furious, the sorceress who dwells there scrawls a curse into the bark of the first oak he fells:
A faerie boy will be born to you whose beauty will be your death.
Ten years later, Lord Rodermere’s son, Beau is born – and all who encounter him are struck by his great beauty.
Meanwhile, many miles away in a London alchemist’s cellar lives Randa – a beast deemed too monstrous to see the light of day.
And so begins a timeless tale of love, tragedy and revenge…
A stunning retelling of Beauty and the Beast.
At the time of writing this review Goodreads have rated this as 2.98 out of 5
21st February 2019 by HQ
I woke when the mighty oak screamed.
No mortal heard the sound those roots made when their weighty grip upon the soil was lost to them. No mortal saw the desperate clawing at the earth, the very life snapping from the trunk as the ground crumbled, shivered with the cacophony of destruction.
How could I sleep, tell me, for it had awakened the very rage in me.
I received a copy of this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This book is strange yet strangely compelling.
If you are someone who doesn’t like to finish a book muttering the words, ‘what the actual heck did I just read,’ then I don’t think this book is for you.
No, it’s not even that I don’t think this book is for you. I know it’s not for you.
Although the blurb says this book is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast I would say it’s more of a case of the story being heavily inspired by the fairy tale then a retelling.
The Beauty of the Wolf uses a lot of the themes of the original fairy tale and some of the plot points of the unknown and meandering original (there’s two versions) and there’s also a sequence or two involving dreams which I thought was a decent nod but ultimately this story deviates off into its own unique path.
Now I liked parts of the deviation. Loved those parts even. If you want something recognizably Beauty and the Beast then you’ll have to wait until over halfway of the book to get there. This is not going to be a good thing for those who were promised a retelling and were expecting a retelling.
If, like me, you don’t mind walking a slightly unknown path and are aware that this book isn’t going to be what you expected, you may be pleasantly surprised. Or not. There are still some flaws with the story’s journey which again, like me, you may not be able to look past.
This is a gender flipped Beauty and the Beast with Beau (our beauty), a half-human, half- fae man who has an androgynous, beautiful face that lends him to performing as a woman on stage in London – I’ll come onto more of that later. His beauty is a curse with people only seeing his face and becoming enchanted with his looks rather than who he is as a person.
Randa (our beast) is a woman who was turned into a beast as an infant via the power of alchemy.
This story follows Beau and Randa’s viewpoints and throws in a third, that of the Sorceress, who in the original curses the Beast with well… looking like a beast. Here she curses Beau to be beautiful and to fulfill a curse to kill his rotten, black-hearted father.
Somehow this book is a little like the tale that inspired it – it’s both beautiful and ugly. By this I mean when something works well, it works really well and we get some stunning prose and imagery.
But when something doesn’t work well? Sadly it really doesn’t and the effect on the flow of the story and the story as a whole is quite jarring.
I mentioned three point’s of view – Beau, Randa and the Sorceress. I don’t mind multiple POV’s, in fact I seem to be going through a phase of enjoying it greatly. I personally benefited from seeing all the perspectives including the Sorceress herself. Yes, she’s petty and wrathful but she’s fae. Her morals are not the same as ours. Supposedly. There are some genuinely horrific humans portrayed in this story.
There is mindless destruction of the Sorceress’ beloved forest and she’s furious. Yes, her methods may be massively disproportionate but again – she’s fae.
In fact, I think I was more intrigued by her side of the story than Beau or Randa’s. I did enjoy them but this is a Beauty and the Beast retelling (so the blurb says) and they’re here to play a part. Because they had roles to fit sometimes they didn’t seem as developed as I would like.
Randa is obsessively in love with Beau but I don’t know why and Beau eventually returns Randa’s affections and declares love although I don’t know why. Love is declared on both sides but I don’t see them grow into it. It wasn’t there until suddenly it was.
But the whole of this story is about love. And sex. Definitely don’t read this if you’re uncomfortable with reading sex scenes. And definitely don’t read this if you think you might get uncomfortable with non-human sex scenes.
The theme (as always) is that beauty is more than skin deep – Beau may be beautiful but he also has a goodness of heart that no one sees and Randa may be a monster but she is lonely and desperate for love. So I appreciate that one can see past the other but then she does have talons.
Although there are sections that are odd I stand by my initial sentence – I found these strangely compelling.
I so desperately wanted to give this book a 4 out of 5 and at times I wavered on it. Yes, the writing is a bit ‘flowery’ and was trying to strike the medieval vibe but I could work with that. Yes, they were making the beast with two backs (literally) but I could also work with that.
What I couldn’t work with was the deviation (no, not from the Beauty and the Beast plot) but from the setting and the story they had building up in The House of the Three Turrets and the forest.
The trees were felled to build The House of the Three Turrets and there’s always a sense that someone or something (or somethings) are looming ever closer to the house. There’s magic and witchcraft in the woods. The trees are waiting.
People get cursed, babies turn up in baskets, passions get inflamed for seemingly no reason at all. Strange flying creatures are swooping down to kill animals, roses bleed, there’s a mystical land of beasts, a monstrous wolf stalking the forest, shape-shifting foxes and our three strange narrators are at the center of it all.
I couldn’t tell you how here I was for that. This was a dark, adult, weird Beauty and the Beast that I didn’t know I wanted. I didn’t care that this was deviating from ‘retelling’ into ‘inspired by’ because I was loving what I was reading.
Then the story went to London. Oh god, who cares?? I understand Beau wanted to escape his environment but he joins an acting troupe passing through the country and goes with them to the city to perform on stage as a woman. Much is made of his androgynous beauty and he starts to really enjoy his role on stage and he has romantic dalliances and cuckolds husbands.
I started to ask, ‘what am I reading?‘ but for a different reason. It was so mundane and misplaced among the magical and I longed for the story to get back to where it needed to be. A large section of the story is centered around the acting troupe and London and if I wanted to watch Shakepeare in Love I would have done so.
Where had my enchanted woods gone? Where was the magical wolf pelt and ravenous hunger? Where was Randa and her turmoil and disappointment that loving Beau and obtaining Beau’s love had kept her just as monstrous?
ARGH! I can’t be eloquent at how frustrated I was.
Too much of the story was taken up by a plot thread that should have been cut and so those irrelevant sections got a 2 star rating from me. But I would rate the sections I loved as a 4.
Ultimately I can’t rate a book based on two halves so I gave an overall rating of 3. In my mind though this book is very splintered, one half the beauty and one half the beast.