Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Of Beast and Beauty - Stacey Jay

Of Beast and Beauty book cover
Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: July 23, 2013
Source/Format: Bought || Hardcover

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.


It's no secret to readers of this blog how much I love the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. It's an obsession that has stuck with me from my younger years, buoyed on my love of enchantment, high stakes and happy endings. I first recall hearing about Of Beast and Beauty last year when Racquel guest reviewed it, but only recently decided to make time to read it. And boy, that decision was an excellent life choice. Of Beast and Beauty is equal parts whimsical, romantic and thrilling. Jay does takes her time building up her world, lore and characters, but I promise that the payoff is worth it.

Isra is a Smooth Skin girl, the blind princess who lives cooped up in a tower with very little company and freedom granted to her. Her separation from society has encouraged her fanciful, innocent nature, and it is only upon Gem's arrival that the world as she knows it is turned on its head. Gem is a Monstrous boy, determined to help bring about the salvation of his people through whatever means necessary, violent or otherwise. He feels nothing but contempt for the Smooth Skins who have everything while his people have nothing, and all he cares about is making sure he saves his tribe. 

Coming from such different backgrounds and with learned prejudices, it's truly no surprise that these two immediately butt heads. Their relationship - from enmity to friendship to love - is handled beautifully, with both characters changing naturally as their assumptions are challenged. I'll admit that I didn't know how they were going to go from "I hate you" to "I love you", but I'm so pleased with the way it works out! Jay also uses their relationship, among others in the novel, as a vehicle for some subtle commentary on gender roles, class issues and racial prejudice. These things are rarely handled in a smart, sensitive manner, and it was a nice surprise to witness just that in Of Beast and Beauty.

It's also cool to see how Jay uses elements from the original tale - the rose, the man's monstrous appearance, the curse of an enchantress, to name a few - and uses them in this story. Her novel is clever, imaginative and captivating, and it certainly has left a very favorable impression. Of Beast and Beauty might be inspired by a fairytale, but Jay certainly hits the ball out of the park with a story that's all her own.

4 comments:

  1. I reallllly enjoyed this one. I thought it was a really unique retelling and it just totally sucked me in. Glad you enjoyed it!

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  2. Danielle @ Love at First PageMay 6, 2015 at 4:53 PM

    Lovely review, Alexa! I'm glad to see more bloggers talking about it. It's one of my favorite retellings (and books in general) - such gorgeous writing and beautiful story telling. Princess of Thorns is a lot of fun, too!

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  3. I have this one in my TBR pile and I really need to get to reading it soon, I've heard so many good things about it!
    And I'm glad to hear that although it's a retelling, it was also done in a great way to make the story stand on its own well enough! And commenting on gender and racial prejudice, I'm all for that!

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  4. I AM SO HAPPY YOU HAVE FINALLY READ THIS!!!! AND I AM EVEN HAPPIER THAT YOU LIKED IT!!!!

    I can't even comment anything else because I'm just smiling since I love this story so much.

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