This review was supposed to be up on Thursday, but my husband planned a surprise trip for us last week that sort of put a wrench in my writing schedule (but for a perfectly acceptable and awesome reason)!
The Beast's Heart by Leife Shallcross
Published by Berkley on February 12, 2019
, Buy on Amazon
A sumptuously magical, brand new take on a tale as old as time—read the Beast's side of the story at long last.
I am neither monster nor man—yet I am both.
I am the Beast.
The day I was cursed to this wretched existence was the day I was saved—although it did not feel so at the time.
My redemption sprung from contemptible roots; I am not proud of what I did the day her father happened upon my crumbling, isolated chateau. But if loneliness breeds desperation then I was desperate indeed, and I did what I felt I must. My shameful behaviour was unjustly rewarded.
My Isabeau. She opened my eyes, my mind and my heart; she taught me how to be human again.
And now I might lose her forever.
Lose yourself in this gorgeously rich and magical retelling of The Beauty and the Beast that finally lays bare the beast's heart.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I love Beauty and the Beast retellings. LOVE. I’m slightly obsessed with that particular story arc/plot and love seeing the different spins authors put on it. I think part of it is because I absolutely adore castles, and COME ON who hasn’t been obsessed with the Beast’s library?
When I first read the blurb for this one, I got super excited – and then read a very negative review (by a reviewer I usually agree with an whom I really respect), which made my toes curl…butbutbutbut it was Beauty and the Beast! So I decided to give it a shot anyway, and lo and behold I was approved for an ARC. I’m so glad now that I didn’t let one review decide whether or not I would read the book. While of course no two people are going to feel exactly the same and the reviewer was perfectly professional and within rights to feel as they did, I personally felt the book was lovely!
This is pretty much EXACTLY how I picture the Beast’s castle as written in this book! – photo from Boredom Therapy
This book surprised me by how closely it follows the original. Of course it is not exact, but it has many more similarities than most of the adaptations I’ve read. It is set in old France, in the 18th-ish century. Isabeau i.e., Belle, is the youngest daughter of a merchant with three daughters. The beast, cursed for an undetermined amount of time, has spent years wandering the woods around his cursed castle and later within the castle itself, attempting to claw his way back to some guise of humanity.
I looked down at my hideous, beastly paws. Thickly furred on the back; black, leathery palms; and those terrible claws I could not sheate. I was overcome with shame. Who am I to love such a one as her? Just as quickly, my shame turned to anger. My talons sunk into the back of the chair. My heart is human! I cried in my mind.
The magic of the story is rather different, as there are no talking candlesticks or clocks and no Mrs. Potts (so sad), but the Beast’s house definitely has a mind and life of its own and is indeed very magical…more on that later.
First of all, the Beast. He’s a very sympathetic character, though a flawed one. He was cursed by a faery who had a long history with his family, and cursed NOT for being evil, but for another reason that you’ll have to read to find out. He is very…well, mopey. Which is really quite understandable given the circumstances, but sometimes I did want to shake him. He recognizes, too, that his manipulation and threatening of Isabeau’s father was wrong and cruel, and he is sorry for it, but as Isabeau later tells him,
“Desperate men do desperate things.”
The Beast definitely grows and changes throughout the story, as he does in the original and most retellings. His woe-is-me attitude sometimes crept in and made him annoying, but overall I liked him.
Isabeau is your typical Belle, except – and I can’t quite forgive this – she is NOT as obsessed with books as my idea of Belle always is! In fact, she declares that she doesn’t quite know what she is good at or what she really enjoys, as her last few years have been spent just trying to make ends meet and help her sisters and father out of the deep depression they collectively fell into after the demise of their father’s fortune. Oy. She remains mostly the same through the book, except of course she comes to see the Beast in a very different light by the end.
Isabeau’s father and sisters were rather different than any portrayal of them that I’ve read, as well. I didn’t particularly like any of them except the oldest sister, but they provided a nice contrast.
The Iffy Stuff
The negative review I read said the Beast was essentially a voyeur and that was a large part of the reviewer’s problem with the book. So, I went into this expecting him to basically be a peeping Tom, mainly on Isabeau. Which wasn’t really what happened at all. Again, YMMV and of course if it bothers someone they should say so! However…the so-called voyeurism occurs at the behest of the Beast’s magic mirror, which is part of his house’s magic. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t – and not always when he wants it to. The book DOES use the mirror A LOT to let the reader see perspectives other than the Beast’s, which is effective but given that he is seeing everything that we are, is kind of…odd. But then, what exactly is normal about his circumstances? He’s much, much older than anyone else still living. His house magically manifests food and clothes. His lands are in all four seasons at once. What’s a magic mirror added to all that? Also, the fact that sometimes it just shuts him off made a difference to me. Sometimes, even when he desperately wants to see something, the mirror says no.
Overall, 4/5 stars. I wish I had been a little more invested in Isabeau and the Beast’s romance, but it was still very sweet and they are both very likeable characters. I loved the descriptions of the old, crumbling yet magical castle and grounds. I especially loved how the Fairy’s relationship to the Beast’s family, particularly his grandmother, was revealed. I’ll definitely be getting a copy of this for my shelf!
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Reading this book contributed to these challenges: