Author: Stacey Jay
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre: YA Fantasy/Retelling
In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret…
In the domed city of Yuan, the blind Princess Isra, a Smooth Skin, is raised to be a human sacrifice whose death will ensure her city’s vitality. In the desert outside Yuan, Gem, a mutant beast, fights to save his people, the Monstrous, from starvation. Neither dreams that together, they could return balance to both their worlds.
Isra wants to help the city’s Banished people, second-class citizens despised for possessing Monstrous traits. But after she enlists the aid of her prisoner, Gem, who has been captured while trying to steal Yuan’s enchanted roses, she begins to care for him, and to question everything she has been brought up to believe.
As secrets are revealed and Isra’s sight, which vanished during her childhood, returned, Isra will have to choose between duty to her people and the beast she has come to love.
I stumbled upon OF BEAST AND BEAUTY while searching for books on Amazon. I guess you can tell by my other review of A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES, I love reading BEAUTY AND THE BEAST retellings. Let me say, this really isn’t a retelling of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. It’s more like…a story with elements of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Namely, some beast-like creatures and some enchanted roses.
We start with Isra who is the Princess of Yuna. She’s basically imprisoned and she’s also blind, and believes she has a mutation like many of the Desert People/other people in this world. Honestly, I’m not really sure where we are—I think it’s some planet or something? Basically, Isra lives in a dome that’s all bountiful and beautiful while the world outside the dome is desert and dangerous. There are magical roses that Isra likes to visit because sometimes they let her see…also, she must sacrifice her blood to them at some point if the dome around them starts to fall to pieces.
I liked Isra. She didn’t let blindness disable her and she learned to live with it. In the beginning she seems really childish, which I found strange. She isn’t raised with the intent that she will rule, but to be a sacrifice. Because of this, when it comes to changing things, she’s pretty whiny.
The other main character, Gem, agrees with me but he doesn’t understand the circumstances under which Isra has been raised. All he knows is that he’s a Desert Man and Isra is a Smooth Skin and he’s supposed to hate her. But he doesn’t really hate her, he actually loves her and just keeps fighting the love because it’s supposed to be disgusting for Desert People and Smooth Skins to feel any sort of attraction toward each other.
The Isra/Gem love didn’t bother me. I felt like it was a little fast, but you can tell the author means to imply a lot of time has passed and the two have had several ‘get to know you sessions.’ That being said, I didn’t find Isra capable of anything beyond that teenaged, angst love.
There’s also a third perspective in the book from a guard named Bo. In my opinion, Bo is weak minded and his perspective would have served better had he actually learned something.
My main complaint is probably this—I wanted this story to be Isra learning of her own power and embracing it. I wanted her to actually do something to deserve to rule her people. I wanted her to show us exactly how she can change the world she lives in for the better…but we don’t really get that. Instead, she’s really a pushover. She lets the men have power over her (and FOR REAL if there is one thing I dislike seeing in books, it’s that). In contrast, the author has Gem talk about how the Desert People give power to their women. Maybe an intentional contrast, however, Isra does nothing to rise to the occasion. At the end of the book, she’s building a brick wall—literally—around herself! That’s not helping your people, that’s hiding from problems! I don’t care if your city is coming down on top of your head.
Jay set up a really good foundation for this to be a real female empowerment novel…but…it sort of fell flat. This book also comes to a close very quickly—as if the author just wanted the book to end. The beginning is very detailed and patient, and the end is not so detailed and rushed.
Another thing to note about OF BEAUTY AND BEAST – the writing is really…poetic. It is very pretty. I found it strange at first, but it finally grew on me once the voices of the characters took root in my head.
Overall, I enjoyed OF BEAST AND BEAUTY. It’s not like other retellings for sure. 3 stars
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