by Robin McKinley
“Beauty has never liked her nickname. She is thin and awkward; it is her two sisters who are the beautiful ones. But what she lacks in looks, she can perhaps make up for in courage.
When her father comes home with the tale of an enchanted castle in the forest and the terrible promise he had to make to the Beast who lives there, Beauty knows she must go to the castle, a prisoner of her own free will. Her father protests that he will not let her go, but she answers, “Cannot a Beast be tamed?”
Robin McKinley’s beloved telling illuminates the unusual love story of a most unlikely couple: Beauty and the Beast.” (via Amazon)
Good Things: Okay, you guys know the story. You probably even know Robin McKinley’s version of the story, if you’re the kind of person who reads book blogs. But, you guys!!! This is the fourth Robin McKinley book I’ve read, and she continues to impress me with her…her Robin McKinley-ness. I might even like Beauty better than I liked Chalice, Deerskin, or The Hero and the Crown. Let’s figure out why, shall we?
I think the most immediate thing is that Beauty has a waaaaay better support system at home than the heroines of the other three books I’ve read. Okay, so Aerin in The Hero and the Crown has her father and Tor, but she is also pretty much feared and/or hated by everybody else. Beauty, on the other hand, has a family that loves and supports her–a dead mother, of course, but a pretty stable father and two pretty stable sisters, and friendly, supportive townsfolk besides. Beauty works hard to support them in turn, not just out of duty but out of love. And, you know, it’s nice! Human relationships and simple interactions are one of McKinley’s (many) strengths, and they really shine through in Beauty–which isn’t to say that there aren’t some lovely interactions and relationships in her other novels, but Beauty is coming from a different place than Mirasol, Lissar, and Aerin do, and consequently has different strengths and challenges.
Beauty isn’t so different from McKinley’s other heroines, though. As with her other novels, a large portion of the story has to do with Beauty’s personal growth as she discovers hidden strengths inside herself and really comes into her own. She changes during her time living at the Beast’s enchanted castle, and that change benefits the Beast and ultimately breaks his curse, but in the end, she changes for herself. And that’s one of the things I love most about McKinley’s heroines.
Plus, I really liked the alternate history/future thing that McKinley let us onto with Beauty’s studying, and the not-yet-written books in the Beast’s castle. WHAT! I love the idea of Sophocles existing in the same world as magic and goblins and crap.
Bad Things: Do I sound incredibly suck-uppy if I can’t think of any? There’s a cat on my lap and she’s making it hard to type. It’s a bit short, and Beauty doesn’t quite have the bite of McKinley’s later books (Beauty being her first). The story is pretty quiet and gentle, and the ending, despite some of the drama, ends pretty quietly and gently–there aren’t any towering battles or end-of-the-world magical showdowns. Only a dubious Beauty, a troubled Beast, and a loving family.
Overall: Sweet! Smart! Beauty is a heroine with punch and sass and I like the heck out of her and her family, and I even like the Beast too. McKinley fleshes the story out and makes it more complex, and I like that too. Go read it if you haven’t! It’ll only take an afternoon or so, and I don’t think you’ll regret it.