First Lines: Just outside Aspen, Colorado, nestled between the sentimental mountains and an inkblot lake, lies St. Rosetta’s International Academy. Its sweeping spires, creeping ivy, and timeworn brick turrets often lead visitors to remark that it looks like a venerable castle from an old European city.
Ok, you guys know me. When I see a book that’s billed as any sort of Beauty and the Beast retelling, I’m there. This was obviously no exception.
Nothing is more important than family to Princess Jaya Rao. So when her little sister becomes embroiled in a scandal fanned to flame by the Emerson family (a family they’ve been feuding with for over a century), Jaya will stop at nothing to have her revenge. Jaya decides to attend St. Rosetta’s to get her and her sister away from the scandal–the school that also hosts Grey Emerson. Now Jaya can put her plan into motion: make Grey fall in love with her and then smash his heart to pieces. But isn’t it just so annoying when Grey turns out to have a brooding demeanor and stunning blue eyes that Jaya can’t ignore? Grey hasn’t trusted anyone years, not since he discovered he was cursed and doomed once he turned 18. He’s lived an isolated existence–until Jaya crashes her way through it. But he can’t shake the feeling that things with her aren’t all they appear…
For most of the story, I genuinely liked it. Jaya’s driving motivation is protecting her family and their reputation. When her sister is threatened, she takes it very seriously and will do whatever is necessary to not only protect Isha but also get her revenge. While that sometimes lead her to the Dark Side, I think that made her an interesting character. She blurs the line between justice and revenge often, which felt realistic. When we become so obsessed with achieving a goal, sometimes we really want to cross that line to get what we want. And Grey is convinced he’s a monster because that’s what his father has told him since he was young. He’s antisocial and terse, but he’s genuine and intelligent when you get to know him (if he lets you in that far). He’s wary of everyone, exasperated by all, and I think he’s my soul twin.
On its own merit, I would say this story is Beauty and the Beast meets Mean Girls. The elite boarding school is just as pretentious as you’re expecting it to be. It was a lot more fun for me in the beginning as the characters were all getting to know each other, but I started to struggle more later in the story when the claws came out. I just don’t have those kind of people in my life (for a reason) and all the veiled threats and backstabbing was a little exhausting. It also made many characters borderline impossible to like. However, I think that was kind of the point? I mean, even when I didn’t like them, I still thought they were fairly well-written characters whose motivations and personality I could see. I didn’t like them–but I understood them.
Even though Jaya is obviously Indian (she’s an Indian princess, after all), I thought there was remarkably little that was culturally different about her and I don’t know why that was the case. I don’t know if the motivation there was to show that she’s just a normal person like all these other rich kids, just with a darker skin tone, or if it was a publisher’s decision to make the book more marketable. I was actually a teeny bit disappointed about that.
Probably my biggest beef, though, is the ending. Everything built up to that moment and then…it was just pretty anticlimactic. I couldn’t believe how suddenly the entire tone of the story changed. Everything happened suddenly and almost irrationally. Character behavior changes so much. It was weird. I think the first-draft ending maybe wasn’t working and then someone was like, “Why don’t we just make it easy and do this?” and that became the ending.
If you’re looking for a faithful Beauty and the Beast retelling, this isn’t it. But it’s not a bad read. It does put an interesting twist in the tale as old as time. Just be warned that there are some issues with the story.