Review: Sharon Shinn – Jenna Starborn

Why did I pick this book up? It certainly wasn’t because of the cover. I may be shallow when it comes to a book’s fashion sense, but really, if the story interests me, I don’t care. So this ugly specimen entered my hallowed halls of reading because the SF Squeecast made me. These guys truly deserve their Hugo and I love their podcast to bits. Such good recommendations!

jenna starborn

JENNA STARBORN
by Sharon Shinn

Published by: Penguin US, 2002
ISBN: 9781101549643
ebook: 384 pages

My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: You would think that if someone commissioned your conception, paid for your gestation, and claimed you immediately after your harvesting, she would love you with her whole heart; but you would be wrong.

Jenna Starborn was created out of frozen embryonic tissue, a child unloved and unwanted. Yet she has grown up with a singularly sharp mind—and a heart that warms to those she sees as less fortunate than herself. This novel takes us into Jenna Starborn’s life, to a planet called Fieldstar, and to a property called Thorrastone—whose enigmatic lord will test the strength of that tender and compassionate heart.

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Any retelling of Jane Eyre is walking the plank by default. Charlotte Bronte’s original story is not only universally beloved but also one of my very favorite books ever. I have read it many times, listened to it on audiobook, watched pretty much all the movie and TV adaptations (The BBC’s version from 2006 is the best), and generally never seem to tire of the tale. Setting the story in a science fiction universe, with interstellar travel a routine, every house equipped with a PhysiChamber to fix any diseases its residents may have, and people being grown in gen-tanks, there is still (or again) a huge gap between the classes. Not every resident of the galaxy is automatically a citizen, and citizenship comes in different levels.

jenna starbornSo… a science fiction retelling of Jane Eyre, huh? Having just finished this book, let me say that while I enjoyed reading it very much, I am also left a bit underwhelmed. Sharon Shinn stays very close to the original and we almost get a scene-by-scene retelling, simply set on the planet Fieldstar. However, since Thorrastone Park – this alternate Thornfield Hall – is built “inspired by” old English estate manors, the setting doesn’t really have much impact on the story. Jenna works as a technician, taking care that the force field that creates a breathable atmosphere, doesn’t break down. She still spends a lot of time with Mr. Ravenbeck’s ward, Ameletta, and even teaches her a thing or two about nuclear reactors. However, apart from traveling in hovercars instead of carriages, there really wasn’t much to set this story apart from the original.

Maybe I am being unfair. If I had read this without knowing (and loving) Jane Eyre, I probably would have adored this book. But knowing the original, and knowing it quite well, I couldn’t help but compare. On every single page. I found myself waiting for certain scenes to happen, wondering how Sharon Shinn would translate them into a universe with space travel, women working “manly” jobs, wearing men’s clothes, etc. In the end, while I found the romance believable and I really enjoyed what the author did with the games Ravenbeck and his guests play, it didn’t really work for me.

The characters, at least, are true to themselves. They are clearly recognisable as their 19th century counterparts and I cared deeply for Jenna and Ravenbeck. The one new character that is introduced feels, while equally likable, a little misplaced. What this book did for me was show just how perfect Jane Eyre is. Not only is it a gripping story of love and class division, but it is also beautifully constructed. Every puzzle piece sits in its place and if you change one thing, you’d really have to change all the others to make it work. I believe that’s why Shinn was so careful, didn’t really change anything.

Apart from one long ride on a space ship, the science fiction element fell short for me as well. I haven’t read a lot of hard sci-fi (I can’t remember any, at least) but I really would have enjoyed more descriptions of Jenna’s work as a technician. Give me all the details about the gadgets and cables she has to take care of.

In conclusion, this was a book worth reading and it showed that the author knows her craft. She evoked emotions in me, made me care about the characters, and even made Jenna tell her story to us, her “reeders”.

THE GOOD: Come on, it’s Jane Eyre!
THE BAD: Not enough science fiction, really just an almost exact retelling with no new twists.
THE VERDICT: A good book retelling one of the most beautiful stories ever. Just not what I was expecting or hoping for.

MY RATING: 6,5/10 Quite good

 

Gregory Maguire – Wicked

I admit I came across Wicked when I was looking for the next musical to watch. It was the music samples online that drew me into the story and brought me first to the novel, then to the musical. And I recommend both most warmly, even though the book will probably not be liked by a younger audience.

WICKED
by Gregory Maguire

published: HarperCollins 1995
ISBN: 0060745908
pages: 432
copy: trade paperback
series: The Wicked Years #1

my rating: 8/10

first sentence: From the crumpled bed the wife said, “I think today’s the day. Look how low I’ve gone.”

When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious Witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked? And what is the true nature of evil? Gregory Maguire creates a fantasy world so rich and vivid that we will never look at Oz the same way again. Wicked is about a land where animals talk and strive to be treated like first-class citizens, Munchkinlanders seek the comfort of middle-class stability, and the Tin Man becomes a victim of domestic violence. And then there is the little green-skinned girl named Elphaba, who will grow up to become the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, a smart, prickly, and misunderstood creature who challenges all our preconceived notions about the nature of good and evil.

First, let me say how brilliant I find the origin of the Wicked Witch’s name. Elphaba is made up of the original Oz author’s initials, L. Frank Baum –> LFB plus a few vowels to make it pronouncable. We don’t actually get to meed her for a while as the story starts out with her parents, most remarkably her slightly nymphomaniac mother. It was very early on that I realized I was not reading a cute children’s retelling of the Wizard of Oz but a novel for adults that deals with sexuality, moral issues and politics. All that serious business does not diminish how much fun this book is, though. Do not be scared!

When I read this, it became one of the books that demanded all my attention and made me put all other current reads aside (even Pern had to make way for Elphaba). The writing style, while definitely not easy, has a nice flow to it and makes Oz come to life in a way that Baum’s version pales in comparison. Don’t hate me but I never really warmed to the original story. Reading about how the villain became who she is when Dorothy meets her didn’t just show the Wicked Witch of the West in a new light, it gave the entire world of Oz a personality. What’s cute and fluffy in the original turns out to be brutal, political conflict, prejudice and sheer stupidity by the population that Elphaba is trying to fight.

We meet Elphaba when she is born and follow the green-skinned girl throughout her career at Shizz University where she is trying to make her fellow students think for themselves and see the world for what it is – a place where evil is afoot. Gregory Maguire cleverly introduces Elphaba to us thorugh numerous side characters’ eyes. I quickly came to love Boq, the Munchkinlander, who is nothing like in the musical (where they made him a little dumb and submissive). Glinda – formerly Galinda – also gets quite some stage time and shows us what she thinks of Elphaba. My all-time favorite character in this book is probably Nanny. What a cool person!

I would say the characters are this novel’s greatest strength but that would devalue that everything else is very strong as well. Maguire managed to create issues that a non-Ozian can relate to. Elphaba speaks up for Animal rights (as opposed to animal rights) – meaning Animals with a soul, who can talk and behave like humans. Oz is not a playground for little kids, it’s a political battlefield. Her main quest, if you want to call it that, is to find the source of evil. With all that going on, we have to remember it’s not easy being green and having a sister without arms…

We do find out how Elphaba turns into the Wicked Witch, even though personally I’d never have called her truly evil. There are a lot of questions left unanswered which will probably be resolved in the sequels. A nice little extra: Every part of the novel starts with a beautiful black and white illustration that I found myself going back to while reading.

Gregory Maguire was a big discovery for me. The man has some talent. He spun a vivid tale around L. Frank Baum’s childrens’ story and brought it to life more than the classic ever could. I warmly recommend this book to anyone who’s wondered about where evil comes from or – like me – who always though that Dorothy was uncool.

THE GOOD: Vivid writing, amazing setting and characters, challenging yet beautiful style.
THE BAD: It may not look it but the book is actually quite long. It took me a while to get through and I see how some people will find the style daunting.
THE VERDICT: An utterly gripping tale that brings Oz to life and draws you into a whole new version of the beloved childrens’ classic.

RATING: 8/10  eight excellent Munchkinlanders

The Wicked  Years series:

  1. Wicked
  2. Son of a Witch
  3. A Lion Among Men
  4. Out of Oz

Other reviews:

A FEW WORDS ON THE MUSICAL:

While the follow the same characters, the stories told in this novel and its musical adaptation are vastly different. The musical is fluffy and cute and simply hilarious. It features some of the most memorably music I’ve ever heard and is suitable for people of all ages. There is nothing as dark and gritty as in the book but I love both for having their own merits. Each version makes the story its own.

I listened to the soundtrack while writing this review and am feeling a familiar tug to go back and explore Gregory Maguire’s Oz some more. Good thing the rest of the series is already waiting on my Everest-like TBR pile.

Norbert Leo Butz and Idina Menzel.
(c) Wicked the Musical

Anne Ursu – Breadcrumbs

Fairy tale retellings have been a priority this month. But I must say, most of the ones I ended up reading were big disappointments. However, I don’t give up easily so I kept trying. And among the bad or badly written ones, I did find a gem or another. This little book was charming in so many ways and retells Hans Christian Andersen’s tale “The Snow Queen” (a personal favorite of mine). Plus, who can resist these adorable illustrations? I love the style and will look for more books illustrated by Erin McGuire.

BREADCRUMBS
by Anne Ursu

published: Haper Collins, 2011
ISBN:0062049240
pages: 320
artwork: Erin McGuire
copy: ebook

my rating: 7/10

first sentence: It snowed right before Jack stopped talking to Hazel, fluffy white flakes big enough to show their crystal architecture, like perfect geometric poems.

Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. But that was before he stopped talking to her and disappeared into a forest with a mysterious woman made of ice. Now it’s up to Hazel to go in after him. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind.

Hazel Anderson doesn’t fit in. It took her a while to find out why but wherever she goes, she’s the odd one out. Whether it’s her dark brown skin, her big brown eyes and deep black hair or whether it’s the fact that her head is always in the clouds and she has trouble concentrating in her new school. The only bright side is her neighbor and best friend Jack. With him, she can pretend they’re superheros playing baseball (Batman is oddly lousy compared to the others) and make up stories about the “shrieking shack”.

The shrieking shack, in fact, is only one of the many references and hints tot works of children’s literature. Hazel loves Harry Potter and Narnia, Hobbits and fairy tales, Neil Gaiman’s Coraline (that made me smirk in particular), adventure stories and comic books. This love for fantasy was part of her appeal as a protagonist – at least for me. I remember my school days when nothing in the classroom was as interesting as the view out of the window (dreary as it was) where I could imagine I saw a dragon flying behind that cloud and a forest sprite dancing in the trees… Hazel is immediately likable, despite or maybe because of her lack of social skills. As an 11-year-old she desperately wishes she had quippy answers to everything or knew what to say about Jack’s mother who is “sick with sadness”. But the right words never seem to come to her and Jack is the only one who makes her belong.

This book is very much a story in two parts. The first is firmly grounded in reality. We meet an awkward but wonderful little girl with one true friend and otherwise not many things to make her happy. Being adopted and now minus one father is not the only problem Hazel has to deal with. Her best friend’s mother suffers from depression which weighs all of them down. Hazel’s mother wants her daughter to make friends with other people and to receive fewer calls from the school about Hazel’s behaviour and lack of attention.
Yes, this is a fairy tale retelling but in the first half, the only magic is in Hazel’s head. A very read, very daunting world awaits the characters and any kind of warmth Hazel can find comes from books and movies.

In the second part, the true fairy tale begins. Magic is everywhere and the structure of the novel switches to our well-known fairy tale style. Hazel walks through this enchanted wood to get her friend Jack back. On her journey, she meets many fearsome creatures and scary people, friends and people in need, strange birds and living nightmares. I won’t tell you about the ending – if you know The Snow Queen you can guess anyway – but I thought it was really well done. Maybe a bit too easy but there was a key moment that almost made my eyes a teeny tiny bit moist…

As fairy tale retellings go, this was one of the better ones. The language is beautiful and at times even poetic but still straight-forward enough for children to understand and appreciate. Maybe some people will disagree with me on this but at least one of the characters in this story seems to be of the same opinion:

“Marty,” Adelaide’s mother warned, “you’ll give them nightmares.”

“Come on, Lizzie.” He shook his head dismissively. “Kids can handle a lot more than you think they can. It’s when they get to be grown up that you have to start worrying.”

Catherynne M. Valente wrote a nice piece about grown-ups underestimating children and thinking that if a book contains too many “big words” it is not appropriate for smaller kids. But it is exactly for those big words that children should be encouraged to read these books. How else are they going to learn anything new? At an age when pretty much everything is a little bit new to them. Read the wonderful full article here: Too Smart for Kids. A Promise to the Readers of Fairyland

THE GOOD: A story of loss and letting go, of the magic inside all of us and what true friendship means. Beautifully written with a very likable heroine and a bittersweet tone to it.
THE BAD: I found the actual fairy tale part of the story less appealing than the beginning. This is a matter of personal taste, however, as the book was written very well throughout.
THE VERDICT: Recommended to young children, may there parents read along with them, enjoy a beautiful tale (and have a pair of ballet shoes at the ready for their little girls)

RATING: 7/10 A very good book with an extra half-point for the illustrations

Frank Beddor – The Looking Glass Wars

This was going to be my last try at fairy tale retellings for this month. June is not even halfway over but with only one good novel and one fantastic comic book (which I’d read before), there was simply too much disappointment. And as much as I enjoy pointing out just why I hated a book, I’d much rather read books that I enjoy. And then this little alternate Alice in Wonderland comes along and actually makes it worth my while. It’s not outstanding but I spent a few very enjoyable hours with this book.

THE LOOKING GLASS WARS
by Frank Beddor

published: Dial, 2006
ISBN: 0803731531
pages: 400
copy: paperback
series: Looking Glass Wars #1

my rating: 5/10

first sentence: Everyone thought she had made it up, and she had tolerated more taunting and teasing from other children, more lectures and punishments from grown-ups, than any eleven-year-old should have to bear.

The Myth: Alice was an ordinary girl who stepped through the looking glass and entered a fairy-tale world invented by Lewis Carroll in his famous storybook. The Truth: Wonderland is real. Alyss Heart is the heir to the throne, until her murderous aunt Redd steals the crown and kills Alyss’ parents. To escape Redd, Alyss and her bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, must flee to our world through the Pool of Tears. But in the pool, Alyss and Hatter are separated. Lost and alone in Victorian London, Alyss is befriended by an aspiring author to whom she tells the violent, heartbreaking story of her young life. Yet he gets the story all wrong. Hatter Madigan knows the truth only too well, and he is searching every corner of our world to find the lost princess and return her to Wonderland so she may battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts.

What a charming premise for a retelling. Lewis Carroll got it all wrong. Alice didn’t have adventures in Wonderland after following a white rabbit in a waistcoat. Alyss has in fact grown

up to become the Queen of Wonderland. Surrounded by the many wonders of this land of imagination, she was celebrating her seventh birthday, when her evil aunt Redd attacked the Heart Palace, killing many and usurping the throne. Alyss ends up in London where her vivid imagination gets her into more trouble than she expected.

It is ironic, really, how important imagination is in the story. Because Frank Beddor doesn’t leave much open for his readers’ imagination. He tells us everything, explains every little detail and spells out anything that might be doubtful. This is a big pet peeve of mine because I think even little children can handle a little mystery and have their own minds to make up.  Authors who believe they have to explain everything are, in my opinion, underestimating readings – be they teenagers, smaller children, or adults.

The fact that I enjoyed this book despite my misgivings speaks for Beddor. While I always knew exactly who did what and why and there was no mystery left do discover, the story offers some neat ideas. Alyss, at the beginning a seven-year-old somewhat spoiled princess, behaves like a proper child her age. She’s selfish and easily bored, she wants to play with her best friend Dodge and not study how to become a queen. As she grows older, her character goes through a similar growth. Stern and determined to get her revenge, to get her queendom back, there is little left of the carefree child who only wanted to escape her lessons in favor of some childish fun.

This book – as any version of Carroll’s Wonderland should, really – offers a bunch of new words, creatures and ideas. Spirit Danes, for example, look like the front part of dogs but with the backsides of a seal… at least that’s how my brain imagined them and I found it wonderfully quirky and absurd and just went with it. Whether it’s tarty tarts, the Heart Crystal, or the awesome mechanical card deck soldiers, they lent a new layer to goold old Wonderland. That said, the beautiful concept art over on the LGW homepage did as much, if not more, to make these creatures come to life in my head. The pictures make the story feel epic and like a mix between Victorian absurdist literature and Sci-Fi.

Frank Beddor clearly tried to bring the war part of the Looking Glass Wars to life. Unfortunately, I have possibly never read fight scenes that were quite as boring as the ones in this book. The main characters are always ridiculously safe and any conflict that appears is resolved too easily for my taste. In fact, the closer I got to the end, the more obvious it became that there are some great ideas in this story that were badly executed. The frequent use of comic book sound words got on my nerves pretty quickly. “Kerboosh”, “plang”, and “thwip thwip thwip” are nice in comics but, come one!  For my part, I would have loved to see what a different writer could have done with the premise. I’m not sure if I’ll be back for another adventure in Wonderland. A story is supposed to get better and more interesting towards the end, not the other way around.

THE GOOD: Very interesting ideas, a quickly-moving plot and even a little romance that I found convincing and refreshingly subtle.
THE BAD: The style reminds me of books for very small children. Everything is spelled out, nothing left for the imagination. In certain scenes the bad writing becomes painfully obvious and left me sadly detached from the story.
THE VERDIC: An ok book. I don’t consider it a waste of time but it didn’t leave me wanting more either.

RATING: 5/10 Meh

The series:

  1. The Looking Glass Wars
  2. Seeing Redd
  3. Archenemy

Related posts:

Other reviews:

Marissa Meyer – Cinder

This was a surprise. Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, this strong-minded little book, decided to pick me up, sweep me off my feet and provide me with reading pleasure non-stop. So people do still write good YA fantasy books. I do have some reservations about certain aspects but overall this was an enjoyable read.

CINDER
by Marissa Meyer

published: Feiwel & Friends, 2012
ISBN: 1466800119
pages: 387
copy: ebook
series: The Lunar Chronicles #1

my rating: 6,5/10

first sentence: The screw through cinder’s ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle.

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .  Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

I’m torn. On the one hand, this book was a fast-paced, fun read that exceeded my expectations by far. On the other hand, I am really, really pissed that the big revelation at the end is not only blatantly obvious but that it’s obvious from a very early moment on. I think it was on page 38 or so that I rolled my eyes and thought: “Oh, how very well concealed this “hint” is. I’m sure Cinder has nothing to do with that little aside about a certain person who died but whose body was never found”. Anybody with the attention span of a butterfly will know what I mean but – for the sake of those who maybe didn’t read that carefully and missed it – I won’t spoil it here. It did ruin the book for me, though.

Now that I’ve got that off my back, let me say that this story starts out with some great ideas that mix surprisingly well. A cyborg heroine who is also a mechanic, what’s not to love? And the author isn’t cheap. That is not all she offers. There is also people living on the moon, a pandemic plaguing the whole planet Earth and no cure in sight, and androids all over the place. Oh yes, there also happens to be a handsome and charming prince who invites Cinder to the ball…
Towards the middle, the author loses herself a little and the plot drifts. This middle bit could have used some editing as it didn’t further the plot very much. It does pick up again in the last third and the book is fast-paced throughout. I would even go so far as to call it very hard to put down.

My biggest problem with the plot was probably this obivous revelation I’ve mentioned. It is obvious to the reader, it is even obvious to some of the characters. Only our poor, self-conscious heroine refuses to see it until the information is served on a silver platter. For a girl who otherwise seems smart and quick, that is just really, really dumb and cost her many a sympathy point. It’s really sad when you have a potentially kick-ass heroine who keeps making bad choices. The prince drops off a faulty android which contains some vital information and Cinder decides it’s more important to build a car for herself than to fix that android. She trusts people far too easily but keeps secrets from the prince, who – if not the brightest bulb on the christmas tree – is at his worst a confused young man with a good heart.

Most of the characters are kept vague, the stepsister and stepmother are appropriately evil and self-obsessed, the prince charming and incredibly bland. There wasn’t much of a love story, which suited me just fine. If I can’t fall in love with a character, I don’t really see why the protagonist should. And other than Cinder, nobody seems to be a three-dimensional, believable person. That’s okay, though, as this is sort of a fairy tale, and I for my part, can forgive it.

While there are some great ideas in this book, many of them remain sadly unexplored. The plot takes place in New Beijing, a setting that was so little realised that it could have been any other place – I didn’t feel that Chinese touch at all. In fact, the way people talked and behaved, the decriptions of the city, reminded me very much of your generic western setting. Except for the palace which is built like ancient Chinese palaces, there is nothing to set this place apart.

The same goes for Cinder being a cyborg. Apart from having a mechanical foot and hand, she also has some pretty awesome gimmicks. A retina overlay informs her when somebody is lying, downloads the latest news from the net and we learn that a large part of her internal organs are also wired. I loved this idea and the possibilities it offers. However, we see too little of those, at least for my taste.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read with only a few hints at the original Cinderella tale, most of which were taking with a grain of salt. Cinder does not care if she has a pretty dress to wear and doesn’t even want to go to the ball. She does have a loathsome stepmother, though, and I particularly liked the idea of the lost “glass slipper”. I will be reading the second book in the Lunar Chronicles and as YA books go, this is one of the better ones. But I wasn’t overwhelmed and hope we get a second volume that is both better than this book and doesn’t end with such a cliffhanger.

Marissa Meyer
photo credit: Kali Raisl

THE GOOD: Great ideas and a fresh take on Cinderella. A fast-paced, fun read.
THE BAD: Oblivious main character, world-building was lacking, I would have liked more depth overall.
THE VERDICT: I would recommend this book for fans of  dystopian YA novels and fairy tales alike. It’s fun, it’s quick, and it’s got a cyborg Cinderella!

RATING: 6/10  Quite good read

Check out the author’s homepage– it’s full of extras, book trailers, recommended reading, art and other goodies. Also, there is a prequel to Cinder you can read for free on Tor.com.

The Lunar Chronicles:

  1. Cinder
  2. Scarlet
  3. Cress
  4. Winter

Related Posts:

Robin McKinley – Beauty

Okay, my first fairytale month book was not great. That doesn’t mean anything, right? There’s plenty more out there and while the McKinley hype didn’t convince me personally, I’m not giving up on fairy tale retellings (or McKinley, for that matter) just yet.

BEAUTY
by Robin McKinley

published: David Fickling, 2011 (1978)
ISBN: 1849920729
pages: 272
copy: paperback

my rating: 3,5/10

first sentence: I was the youngest of three daughters.

The author loses herself in descriptions of the castle, the gardens, the forks on the table, literally every single detail. There are authors who can pull that off – Tolkien’s descriptions of landscapes never really bothered me – but here, where the plot is nothing new, I felt the author should at least bring something new to the table. And she simply didn’t.

Reading Beauty felt a lot like watching a boring version of the Disney movie (granted, the book was published first) without singing or fun or a good love story. If you tackle a well-known fairy tale, the only way to make it interesting to readers is to give them something they don’t expect. Here, everything is as expected. The only parts that were slightly more interesting to me, were Beauty’s sisters stories. I actually hoped Grace would end up happily ever after.

The characters are practically cardboard. But that is also not surprising. Most fairy tales don’t have a lot of character variety, after all. But at least the Beast should have shown more temper, not been so damn nice all the time, and maybe talked more to his “guest”. The few conversations they do have don’t really teach us anything new about either character. It is usually just the Beast proposing and Beauty refusing him. Wearing pretty dresses, riding her horse and walking around the castle, reading books, does not make for a page turner.

I liked the introduction well enough, the writing style is enchanting, the idea of Beauty actually being very plain ingtriguing. It takes very long until the Beast appears, though and then, McKinley does nothing but describe interior decoration to us. Beauty wanders through the endless corridors of the Beast’s castle and looks at each candlestick in minute detail – which makes up pretty much the complete middle third of the book. The few glimpses of plot in between did not keep me intersted.

I was ready to drop the book and start my luck with something else, when Grace’s story became more important again. As I said, I cared about Beauty’s sisters (perfect as they are) and wanted to see them happy. So I raced through the last third of this novel to get my happy ending. The breaking of the curse and the Beast’s transformation are done so quickly that there was no way for me to build up any emotion. I did come to care for the characters, in the end, but not enough to want more by McKinley.

This reminded me a lot of the Walt Disney version of Beauty and the Beast. Magical, invisible servants, blankets that tuck you in themselves, doors that open as if by magic… and a protagonist who loves books. I’m assuming Disney was borrowing heavily from McKinley’s reimagined fairy tale. Unfortunately for me, this made the story not only 100% predictable, it also made it look bad. Because, let’s be honest, Disney did a much better job. And offered a bunch of sing-along music that I still love.

THE GOOD: Appropriate, magical writing style, characters often stand for one particular quality – very reminiscent of old fairy tales.
THE BAD: Very, very boring at times. How a child is going to push through this, I don’t know. I was tempted to lem the book. Ending feels rushed.
THE VERDICT: A story that very likely inspired Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast – Disney did it much better, however, and I recommend the movie over this book any time.

RATING: 3,5/10  Didn’t like it, but it had potential

Related Posts: