This was a pretty classic retelling in most ways. The setting & time period are basically the same, &
Beauty and the Beast modern retelling #1:
This was a pretty classic retelling in most ways. The setting & time period are basically the same, & it retains all the major plot points. What made this version interesting was the characterization of Beauty. In this version she is the rather homely youngest of three sisters--Grace, Hope, and Honour--who ends up nicknamed "Beauty" from a young age. While the other two are beautiful, romantic, and rather frail, Beauty is portrayed as rational, practical, bookish, doesn't mind physical labor, & spends her time studying Greek and Latin and charging around the countryside on her stallion. So while the story still follows the basic outline of the traditional fairy tale, her relationship & interactions with the Beast during her stay at his enchanted castle are more nuanced and interesting than usual. There aren't many unanticipated twists and turns, though, and for the most part things play out exactly as expected. A quick, easy read, and well-written.
This book is interesting because it's written by the same woman, Robin McKinley, who wrote Beauty (the first
Beauty and the Beast modern retelling #3:
This book is interesting because it's written by the same woman, Robin McKinley, who wrote Beauty (the first retelling of this story that I red a few weeks back) twenty years prior. In the afterword, McKinley explains that Beauty & the Beast has always been hear favorite fairy tale, & she wrote Beauty "almost by accident," as more of a writing exercise that she never expected to be able to sell to anyone precisely because it was so straightforward & followed the traditional tale so closely. Feeling strongly that authors shouldn't recycle plots, she said for years she'd never write another "Beauty & The Beast," but it turns out that between 26 and 46 a lot of life happens, and with 20 years of additional maturity & experience under her belt, McKinley realized that maybe she hadn't said everything she had to say about this particular story.
There are definitely similarities between the two. Many of the traditional elements of the fairy tale are intact--wealthy, widowed merchant of three daughters faces financial ruin & moves the family to the country, is unexpectedly called back to deal with a lingering business matter, gets lost in a winter storm while riding back, & is put up & fed overnight at a seemingly empty yet enchanted estate. Upon taking a rose from the estate to give to his youngest daughter, he is accosted by the eponymous Beast who issues the familiar ultimatum, "Your daughter or your life."
This time, though, the story is significantly richer and more nuanced, both in terms of the characters and their emotional depth as well as the back story surrounding just how the Beast got himself into this situation & what it will take to get him out. The magic is spooky, disorienting, and a bit malicious, and in fact that combined with the somewhat schizophrenic storytelling give the whole thing a rather dream-like, disorienting feel that makes parts of it difficult to follow (though I actually thought this worked & added to the ambience).
It only gets three stars from me, though, because a) the first 2/3 to 3/4 were soooooo slow & it felt like there were long stretches where nothing much happened or where what happened could have been seriously edited down for the sake of pacing; by that point in the narrative arc I really felt like I should have some idea where the story was going and some vague sense of how things would be resolved (or, at the very least, what there was to resolve). Then, suddenly, things take off & I spent the last quarter-to-a-third of the book trying to hold on & keep up as she threw critical revelation after critical revelation at me in a way that felt a bit tacked-on & not really tied into everything that came before. I am not even kidding that the last 20 pages contained enough richness and new material for an entire other book. If McKinley could have tightened up the middle of the book, spent some time hinting/alluding to some of the stuff you find out only at the end & connecting it to those middle chapters, then expanded the last 20 pages into, say, 100 or so, I think it could have been a really fantastic book.
Still, it was worth reading on a plane just to compare to Beauty and see how the story had morphed in her mind during those intervening two decades.
In this version of B&B, "Beauty" is Rosalind (get it? Rose?) Hawkins, a doctoral student in history/class
Beauty and the Beast modern retelling #2:
In this version of B&B, "Beauty" is Rosalind (get it? Rose?) Hawkins, a doctoral student in history/classics in 1905 Chicago whose father has fallen into financial ruin & then died, leaving her destitute & unable to afford to complete her degree; "the beast" is Jason Cameron, an elemental master of fire-cum-disgustingly wealthy railroad baron in San Francisco who has been transformed into a half-man-half-wolf monster via a spell gone horribly wrong. Through no small amount of deception, Cameron hires the scholarly Rosalind as a research assistant to help him search for the right spell to change him back into a proper human; meanwhile, his devious rival plots to destroy him with the aid of Cameron's charming yet duplicitous secretary/apprentice, who himself has designs on Rosalind. Things play out more or less the way you'd predict.
This is only the second Mercedes Lackey I've ever read & I'm starting to get what people mean by "hair drier" reading. If you need to pass the time, this is a pretty easy book to pick up and read a few pages, and few more, and a few more, until suddenly you're 100 pages in without even realizing it; that said, I would definitely categorize it as good-but-not-great.
The plot itself is rather slow-moving, the climax & resolution rather underwhelming and, well, anticlimactic, and judging by the massive blocks of internal monologue that insist on spelling out every relevant plot point/bit of characterization/etc., Lackey doesn't seem to have much faith in her readers' abilities to pick up on inference or figure things out for themselves. But the two main characters are interesting, and she sets up an interesting dynamic between the two of them.
Had the villains been a little less cartoonish and the elemental magic aspect of the storyline developed further, I feel like this actually could have been a pretty fantastic book. As it is, it'll get you through a plane ride without wanting to shoot yourself.