Even though Honour is not nearly as beautiful as her two older sisters Grace and Hope, she has always been nicknamed Beauty, a contradiction she frequently shrugs off. Beauty loves learning and reading and takes great pride in the books she owns; she can own quite a few due to the wealth of her father. While her sisters meet potential husbands, Beauty reads. All this changes when their father’s fleet is lost at sea. Not only has his wealth vanished but so has Grace’s fiance. The family moves inland, away from the city, to a small town on the outskirts of an enchanted forest. When Beauty’s father inadvertantly meets a beast, he must promise to remain forever unless one of his daughters is willing to take his place. Beauty knows her duty and heads into the forest for the confrontation of her life and the making of her future.
I’m very excited about fairy tale retellings these days and I have informally decided that Robin McKinley is the queen of that special feel which only fairy tales have. She hasn’t let me down yet, and she certainly didn’t in this one. When I was a little girl, Beauty and the Beast was one of my favorite movies. I love it now because it’s a love story which does not, for once, revolve around beautiful people, but rather personalities. Beauty must be strong enough to face the Beast and tame him, but he must have an extraordinary personality for her to see past his hideous appearance and love him. I love this dynamic, sucker as I am for romance, and McKinley does it SO. WELL.
I’m assuming everyone knows how the story goes, so I’m not going to try and avoid spoilers, especially because my absolute favorite part was the ending. As we all know, when Beauty admits that she loves the Beast and wants to marry him, he becomes human again. Her shock at his newly attractive appearance – and insistence that she couldn’t marry him, he wasn’t her Beast – was a splendid and moving scene. I could completely believe in this love story and I adored the ethereal feel which Robin McKinley is so, so good at. Yes, I’m in love with this book, and I’m not really ashamed to admit it!
A couple of little things also swept me away in the telling of this story. I loved that the Beast’s library was full of books from the future. It fit in with the magical setting and allowed Beauty plenty of distraction. I think this is meant to be a medieval or early modern world, so books in print would be quite rare at that time. Secondly, I love that Beauty became beautiful as she fell in love and the story went on. She seems young in the beginning, but as time goes on she grows up and grows into her body, which I think is a wonderful physical representation for the growth of her feelings and love towards the Beast.
Anyway, I will now stop my endless rambling and just tell you that you really ought to read Robin McKinley if you haven’t before. I missed her as a child and I regret this so much! I’m loving my discovery of her books and I hope that you would, too. Highly, highly recommended for anyone who loves fantasy or fairy tales.