Sarah Pinborough – Beauty

Goodbye, fairy tale retellings. Hello, crazy meltingpot of awesome! Ostentatiously, this is Sarah Pinborough’s take on Sleeping Beauty, but in actuality it’s  a mix of all sorts of fairytales. Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, Rumpelstiltskin, and Rapunzel are just the ones I picked up on. Still, I can’t complain. My lust for fairy tales has been satisfied and I am ready to move on to space ships again.

beauty pinboroughBEAUTY
by Sarah Pinborough

Published by: Gollancz, 2013
Hardcover: 208 pages
Series: Tales from the Kingdoms #3
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: It was a warm spring and the king and queen took their breakfast on the balcomy outside their private apartments, enjoying the fresh air without the burden of any sort of protocol.

Beauty is a beautifully illustrated retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story which takes all the elements of the classic fairytale that we love (the handsome prince, the ancient curse, the sleeping girl and, of course, the haunting castle) and puts a modern spin on the characters, their motives and their desires. It’s fun, contemporary, sexy, and perfect for fans of ONCE UPON A TIME, GRIMM, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN and more.

Dear book blurb writers. Now hold on just a second! Comparing Pinborough’s books to Once Upon a Time or – worse! – Snow White and the Huntsman (yeah, I tortured myself with that shit) is a huge insult. Once Upon A Time is fluffy and silly and caters to the Disney-generation for season one, then turns to crap in season two. Snow White and the Huntsman, apart from the atrocious acting on the part of whatsherface-twilight-girl, is a badly-told, boring story that has next to nothing in common with the original. There. Rant over.

In Pinborough’s version of Sleeping Beauty, we return to that despicable prince from the previous two books but we also travel back in time (see, I don’t even need a TARDIS to do it). Before he fell in love with the poisoned Snow White, the prince was restless and his parents decided he needed an adventure. Legends from the neighbouring kingdom have reached the palace. The capital is surrounded completely by a dense forest and nobody has entered the city in almost a hundred years. So prince and huntsman/bodyguard trek over to said kingdom and pick up a girl in a red cloak on the way. Petra just wanted to bring some food to her granny’s house, but secretly, she is entranced by the howling of the wolves that roam the forest nearby.

Long story short, the trio arrives at the citybeauty2, everybody’s asleep, the prince kisses Beauty and off we go. This is where it starts getting awesome. Because as familiar as the set-up sounds, the curse, the kingdom, Beauty herself, and the reasons for her enchantment are nothing like what you’d expect. The first two books were pretty sexy, this one adds a layer of creepiness to it all. There is one scene in particular that includes quite graphic descriptions of an orgy. I read this on a train ride and never have I been so grateful that people don’t know what it is I’m consuming when I read. All they see is a girl reading a book.

As much as I still love Pinborough’s portrayal of characters, her language and ideas, I do have some gripes with number 3 in the Tales from the Kingdoms. I enjoy messed-up fairy tales and crossovers, but there was really no reason for Red Riding Hood or the wolf to show up. They didn’t add to the story, they felt stuck in for the sake of another fairy tale. Rumpelstilstkin was a nice addition and he fits so neatly into this story, I’m surprised nobody else has come up with it yet. Sarah Pinborough also sets up some ideas for future novellas in the series (Fingers crossed! I definitely want more.). But for a 200-page book, it dragged along a bit, especially in the beginning. There were frequent shifts in perspective between the huntsman (sigh), the prince (ugh), and Petra (Red Riding Hood). For such a short story, one POV character or two are really enough.

So this was my least favorite in the series but still one of the better retellings I’ve read. See? It’s so simple. Don’t make your fairy tale retellings into mushy, tame, YA romances. Take all the darkness and the grit and the sex and the blood from actual fairy tales, put a feminist spin on them, make the lovely prince a bumbling idiot, and you have a fantastic modern fairy story.

If the author does decide to write more stories in the same vein, sign me up. After all, we still haven’t read about Rapunzel or the Goose Girl or – gasp – Bluebeard! I’ll read a Sarah Pinborough Bluebeard any day.


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