Beauty and the Beast (Timeless Fairytales #1) by KM Shea
Do I need to recap the plot of this book? If a series is entitled ‘Timeless Fairy Tales’, I’ve hope you know what you’re in for. As an unashamed fan of Robin McKinley’s Rose Daughter (what I consider to be the better of her two Beauty and the Beast retellings), I’m always on the look out for a lovely little retelling like this. KM Shea does an excellent job of bringing her own touch to this story, and it still rings true to the heart of the tale.
The best part of this story is that Elle, the beauty half, has a logical reason to be trapped in the chateaux. In the first scene, she falls through the roof and breaks her leg. Hearkening back to the French roots of the tale, Elle is trapped in a country chateaux in the fantasy country of Loire, which is fantasy France. Prince Severin, the younger brother and non-heir apparent, reluctantly keeps Elle through the summer and autumn in his chateaux until her leg heals. There’s a certain Enlightenment feel to the culture and architecture of the chateaux, and I would’ve enjoyed if the story played up these elements a bit more. For me, it’s not possible to go part French–all aboard the Francophile train or go home. That said, there are nice little allusions to French culture, and I’m clearly freaking obsessed with finding a Beauty and the Beast tale where one of the characters rants about French art and literature.
That said, I liked Elle’s character a lot. At first, she doesn’t seem particularly special as a heroine, but there’s some hints that she’s a bit more than she seems. There’s some playing coy with her backstory, and if it was dropped earlier in the novel, I think it would’ve heightened the tension at the end. As much as I try not to judge a book by its ending, this one was one where I had to do that. The end could’ve–should’ve–been more tense. Frankly, the story ended a bit too soon, and I was waiting for another twist, another action sequence, but it never came.
But let’s get back to the parts I did love: the characters. This is the clear strength of the novel. Elle’s friendship with the servants, especially Emele, is poignant and didn’t bore me. The servants all have personalities of their own, and their part in the curse (being unable to speak and wearing masks) adds a distinctive aura to the story that made it stand out. By including other characters, instead of just having the palace be empty, the world becomes richer, the story filled with more emotional stakes because that’s where the real action is in this novel. The servants also push the romance along with gossip and schemes, and the crown prince, Lucien, helps add depth to the greater political landscape of the story. Also, it was nice to see Severin have relationships outside of his one with Elle.
The central relationship in the story between Elle and Severin worried me at first. Severin is in the unique position that he’s tried to break his curse before and failed, so he has no interest in trying again. This let some of the tension out of the relationship initially, but the servant supporting cast stepped in to help kindle the initial friendship between Severin and Elle. For most of the story, it’s a friendship. That works well with Elle’s character and her supposed station, but this is where I would’ve loved a surprise drop in her backstory. Things would’ve gotten crazy a lot earlier, and more could’ve happened in this novel. There was a certain amount of ease with which the curse was broken, but I like more teasing out of my finales. I know what the ending is going to be. I want to need that ending, anticipate it with every freaking page, and this story didn’t quite deliver that longing. Still, there are sweet, tender moments between the main characters, and they’re both fully fleshed out humans with flaws and pasts.
- I really liked how the servants were incorporated. Emele with the fan was intensely French.
- Did I imagine the chateaux looking like Versailles (even though that’s anachronistic for the period the story was implied to be in)? Yes, I did.
- This story delivered the animal companion goods. Fairy tale retellings without animal companions is heresy.
- Severin is a giant cat. This particular version of the beast is more similar to the gentleman beast than the half-mad one that’s become a bit more popular of late.
- This is a writer thing, but there were lots of repetitive description words in this story. That’s a difficult part to edit, but it made the world less evocative.
- Could we’ve gotten something a bit more interesting than ‘working in his study’ for 90% of what Severin did. That would’ve helped build his personality for me.
- We got a Princess and the Frog sequel tease with Lucien. MAKE IT SO.
Rating: 3 stars
I’m being freaking picky with this, but there are lots of great reasons to read this book. The real reason for this rating is that 1) the ending is a bit slack with the overall tension and 2) the world building needed a bit of work. The pro-part is that there’s a fresh take on the characters, and this makes the story charming throughout, even if it doesn’t hit all the right notes with the plot.
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