Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay

Of Beast and Beauty
by Stacey Jay
Read: July 28 - 30, 2013
Published: July 23rd 2013 by Delacorte Press
Source: Borrowed from Carrie* @Onebookishmom
Category: Fairytale retelling, sci-fi, fantasy, YA

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. (From Goodreads)
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Irsa is a blind princess living in a walled city that stays green and flourishes abundantly on the blood sacrifice of its former queens. She knows this is what her own future holds but is determined to save her Smooth Skin people at all cost. 

Gem is one of the Monstrous people of the desert. He has infiltrated the walled city Yuan to steal its enchanted roses and save his people from starvation. When Gem is captured, he meets Isra, and both are surprised to find that the other is not what s/he expected. When Isra and Gem begin to discover the truth behind their dying world, they must work together and figure out how to change it before it's too late.    

Author Stacey Jay is known for loose retellings of well loved stories, and while Juliet Immortal didn't work for me, I was really eager to see what she would do with one of my favorite fairy tales. Like Jay's taken on Romeo and Juliet, this book doesn't rigidly adhere to the story that we all know, and this time I think it's better for it. I really enjoyed Jay's fresh perspective and the opportunity to see Beauty and her Beast through new eyes. 

Although I was worried at first about how Isra's blindness would affect her, it became one of the best parts of this story. Isra's inability to see has made life more difficult for her, because she can't always judge for herself the truth of others' words. That makes her journey through this novel painful at times. But it also means that she doesn't see the world like everyone else. Isra also doesn't immediately judge based on appearances. In some ways this book reminded me a bit of Frankenstein, whose monster's only acceptance comes from a blind man. But Isra is not the only one who needs to overcome her society's prejudice. Gem has his own preconceived notions of Isra and the Smooth Skins that he is only able to reconsider by knowing her. 

In Of Beast and Beauty there's not just one thing that's beautiful and one thing that's monstrous. Both of these characters have to move past their own prejudices and find the humanity in the other person, all while navigating complex and heartbreaking issues affecting their societies and personal lives. This makes their story feel current and relatable, despite the magical high fantasy setting. There were things I could learn from both Isra and Gem about the difference between beauty and goodness, about not judging others and about seeking the truth, no matter the cost. 

Although I adore forbidden romances, I wasn't always as emotionally connected to Isra and Gem as I wish I had been. While I really liked this story and enjoyed the romance, I wanted a bit more of the shivery feelings. I'm not sure why I didn't get that. Perhaps because this book seems to speed up their connection somewhat in the beginning? 

Stacey Jay's Of Beast and Beauty is an exciting and wholly new retelling that made me think about one of my favorite fairytales differently. I like that this book looks at Beauty and the Beast from fresh eyes (through someone who cannot see) and that the characters don't perfectly mirror the originals in appearance or action. It makes this book a more complex and relevant read.  

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone

*Did I tell you that I'm currently obsessed with Beauty and the Beast adaptations? If you follow this blog, I'm sure you know this by now. That's why I was thrilled when my friend Carrie @Onebookishmom offered to send me Of Beast and Beauty to read. THANK YOU, Friend!

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15 comments:

  1. I had no idea this was a high fantasy novel. Wow! I haven't read Juliet Immortal, so I can't comment on that, but I will say that the aspect of the MC in Of Beast and Beauty being blind is so intriguing. I like that concept a lot. That's pretty tough to pull off as well. This is one of my favorite fairy tales as well. I wasn't going to read it, but even though you didn't enjoy this starcrossed romance that much (which is one of my favorite kind as well;)), you kinda made me excited to explore this novel. I'm glad that overall you liked this one:)

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  2. I like how the author pulled in the Beauty and the Beast elements and modernized them, changing them just enough that the bones of the story remained while making it new. Sounds really good! And I like that one of the MCs is blind -- that's definitely a challenge.

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  3. 1. I'm a HUGE HUGE fan of beauty and the beast (hence my Belle avatar)
    2. No love-triangle.

    I'm sold <3 My copy is on it's way and I can't wait to hold it and hug it, haha (and read of course!)

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  4. We've already chatted about this on Goodreads, but I also felt that given that Isra and Gen start out hating and fearing each other, I wanted their romance to feel a little more gradual and emotional than it did.
    But I still really liked this one, and I'm a big fan of Stacey Jay -- I loved Juliet Immortal and Romeo Redeemed!

    Thanks so much for stopping by! Jen @ YA Romantics

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  5. Lauren, I'm so glad this worked out so well for you! I have to admit, the idea of a blind Beauty is really appealing. I love that twist to it already and this book seems very rooted in world-building and politics too, which I'm really looking forward to. It is a little disappointing that the romance wasn't as easy to connect to, but I'm hoping I'll still like this one. I can't wait to give it - and Stacey Jay - a shot. I ignored her Juliet Immortal duology as I hate R&J, but I'll definitely be reading this for sure. Wonderful review, dear! :)

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  6. Lauren, I love Beauty and the Beast re-tellings, too! This sounds wonderful and I'm glad that the story is just a little different from the original so it would keep me guessing. Sounds like a fresh take on the story. Great review and I LOVE that cover. I'm going to check this one out! :)

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  7. I am so anxious to read this book. My library better decide to stock a copy of it soon! Although I'll admit some of the differences you note between this and the original tale make me a teensy bit wary. I do love retellings of all kinds, but the ones I tend to enjoy the most are those that stick more closely to the original tale. Hopefully I can fixate on the relevance of the story's themes and appreciate the originality of Jay's story, as you seem to have.

    Also, talk to meeee. I can give you tons of B&B recs. :)

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  8. I'm looking forward to reading this. I love the forbidden romance aspect and I like that the re-telling is fresh. Great review! ~Pam

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  9. I wasn't a fan of Jay's Romeo and Juliet retelling either, so you liking this book makes me so happy. I like the new twist in this beauty and the beast tale and can't wait to explore it. Great review, Lauren!

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  10. Lauren, your review encouraged me to add this one to my TBR list! I've never read a retelling of Beauty and the Beast before. I do, however, own one! I bought a copy of Robin McKinley's Beauty from thriftbooks, and I just go it in today (on your time zone, that would be yesterday). lol Have you read this one before? I bought it on a whim, to be honest. Most people seemed to enjoy McKinley's retelling on goodreads, so, I just went for it!



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    1. I read and reviewed Robin McKinley's BEAUTY earlier this summer! It's a beautiful story, though a bit slow to start. Very different from this adaptation, more traditional. I hope you read and love both.

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    2. That's great to know, Lauren! I hope to dive into both of these soon. Thanks for your thoughts. :)

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  11. I am SO intrigued by this book, and I only very recently heard of it! Of all the fairy tale retellings, Beauty and the Beast is my favorite. I love all the moral questions of what constitutes true beauty that inevitably arise:) It's a shame that the romance didn't really connect with you, I am definitely a fan of the shivery feelings too:)

    Btw: have you ever read Cat Hellisen's When The Sea is Rising Red? It's a fave of mine and she has a Beauty and the Beast retelling coming out next year and the narrator is the girl and SHE is the beast:) Here's the link: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17402724-beastkeeper

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  12. I've been eyeing this book for a while, Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite fairy tales (yes I am talking about the Disney adaptation) so I've been second guessing it, could it ruin my vision of the original? is it worth being called a B&B retelling, but the way you put it makes me intrigued you make it sound that it only takes the "basics" and then the author decides to elope with the story and make it entirely her own.

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  13. I think I'd heard that the romance in her Romeo retellings was hard to connect to, as well. I have them on my shelf, but I've yet to find the time for them. I'm almost afraid to read this one because Beauty & the Beast is one of my favorite fairy tales (and my daughter's, too!) and so it would have to be pretty good to impress me.

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