*Note: review is a little spoilerish* I was drawn to this book because it’s a BatB retelling. BatB is my favourite fairy tale and I’m usually eager to...more*Note: review is a little spoilerish* I was drawn to this book because it’s a BatB retelling. BatB is my favourite fairy tale and I’m usually eager to read any retellings that I can get my hands on. On the one hand, this is a positive thing for The Subtle Beauty as it led me to purchase the book. On the other hand, however, it is not at all in its favour as it means that I’ve got a lot to compare it with.
When held up against the likes of Juliet Marillier’s Heart's Blood and Stacey Jay’s Of Beast and Beauty I’m afraid that this book falls flat. It’s certainly got some good ideas, with the story based on a form of Celtic mythology, but it still feels very unpolished. For one, the prologue takes up a whole 25% of the story. It’s incredibly long and I personally found it boring as I didn’t want to get caught up in that particular character.
At this point questions are already starting to crop up that don’t get resolved: why would Xander go to the warlock for help then immediately threaten him? Why do the men suddenly decide to invade Xander’s keep and threaten his wife? Why introduce the mythological creatures? After all, they have no particular role in the story beyond simply existing and could easily have been written out of it entirely. How does Xander manage to shake off the influence of the sword? It’s like a drug, fundamentally changing him, but he somehow goes from being dependant on the blade to just not – How? Where did that come from? These are just the first of many unanswered questions that pile up throughout the story culminating in what happened to Xander? It goes from him being King of his realm to Eoghan being King with no mention of Xander’s fate. I get the feeling that the author was still too caught up in the story in her head and forgot that the reader doesn’t have access to all her knowledge.
Furthermore, the style is still a bit on the basic side. It often felt like I was reading a list of actions rather than a narrative. For example: “Rhun slowed, no longer sure of his footing. Xander swatted a mosquito nuzzling the vein in his neck. Rhun nickered warily. Xander patted his shoulder to reassure him.”
There was a tendency to over exaggerate each character as well. This story’s Beauty is one of seven royal sisters, with each sister representing one of the seven deadly sins. The portrayal of each sister’s sin felt somewhat over the top, though, and it just served to place another wedge between me and the story.
Beauty’s sin is pride, meaning she’s very vain and convinced the sun worships her. It certainly made for a unique spin on the age old fairy tale but it also meant that Beauty’s personality repulsed me. When I’m reading a book, I need to be able to connect with the main character on some level. That wasn’t the case here. I couldn’t understand why Eoghan, who is cursed for his father’s sins, caught in the body of a gryphon, would be interested in this vain creature, why he would keep making overtures, giving her yet another chance, given the way she treated him. I admire the author’s guts, choosing to make her character so unlikeable but, for me, the story didn’t have that flair that would have allowed it to carry off such a feat.
As a final note, there’s some Gallic used in the story with a numbered reference that shows the translation in English on the last page of the Kindle edition. While a good idea in essence, it’s not really very practical. I’m not going to faff about flicking to the back of the book for a translation each time; it’s not something I enjoy doing on the Kindle. In the end, I ignored all the contributions in Gallic. It might have been a better idea to include English repetitions of the Gallic terms, certainly in a digitally published novel.(less)