Of Beast and Beauty

First Lines: In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret.  The secret was as old as the cracked cobblestone streets of Yuan, as peculiar as the roses that bloom eternally within the domed city’s walls, as poisonous as the forgotten history and the stories told in its place.

I think I added this to my to-read list the moment I was sure it was a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  And then, during my last trip or two to the library, I passed up on this book.  Why?  Well, I was a little concerned about how much I would like the sci-fi element in the story.

In Yuan, a domed city of Smooth Skins (the superior race of people), lives Princess Isra.  Her whole life, she has known that she would be a human sacrifice to keep her city alive and thriving.  Outside of the city is Gem, a Monstrous boy who will do whatever it takes to keep his people alive.  Isra is determined to help the Banished, a portion of her people with the Monstrous mutations that make them ostracized within the city.  She enlists the help of Gem, her prisoner, who was captured while trying to steal the enchanted roses.  But as Isra begins working with Gem, she begins to believe she cares about him…and that may just change the way she views the world around her.

Alright.  So this obviously is not your run-of-the-mill B&tB retelling.  It’s just not.  But that was so not a bad thing.  It made the story feel new while still having all of the elements I wanted in a B&tB story.

That was something that this story did really well.  Everything you thought you knew about the story or the characters was wrong.  Well, not everything I suppose, but a lot of it was turned on its head.  In a great way.  For example, Isra is never Gem’s prisoner, the way Belle is to the Beast.  But still, Isra feels like a prisoner at times, even though Gem is the real prisoner in the story.  Little things like that cropped up all the time.  Role reversals were a big thing.  Really, this story was a story that had characteristics of a sci-fi and a fairy tale retelling.  It was an interesting combination.

And I really liked these characters.  Isra, being blind, definitely had a unique way of sharing her experiences.  That was cool.  And she’s just an amazing princess with some insightful observations because she is blind.  She notices things differently than other characters.  And Gem…he definitely has the essence of the Beast from the Disney version.  He’s gruff and rough, but he also has a softness inside of him that doesn’t often make its way out.  And I liked that.  There’s something about that kind of vulnerability in people that is just so endearing to me.

There was so much about this story that just rounded it out at the end.  The multiple perspectives and story lines, the wise words from all the characters, and the characters you don’t know whether you should love or hate because they aren’t good, but they aren’t evil either.  It was just a really engaging story.  I’m only sad it took me so long to get through because of everything I had to do this week to get ready for my college graduation.

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