Sunday, March 29, 2015

Review: Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay

Title: Of Beast and Beauty
Author: Stacey Jay
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: July 23, 2013

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.

Of Beast and Beauty is a really cute retelling of the classic Beauty and the Beast.  Princess Isra has been blind since she was four years old.  She only knows three people in the world: her father, his adviser, and her maid.  Being locked in a tower for years, she yearns to be free.  She knows how people act around her and think she is tainted.  She thinks she is ugly and that she has scales beneath her skin.

Gem is a warrior of the Desert People.  He enters Yuan one night with his brother and father in a desperate act to steal the magical roses of the royal garden and save his people.  Soon Isra's and Gem's paths collide.

The world that Jay created was wonderfully magical.  People have mutated to survive extremely harsh deserts.  Many others have mutated to be missing body parts from birth.  The Smooth Skins and the Monstrous are at war with each other.  It's almost like Romeo and Juliet.  Except no one kills themselves at the end.

The story follows the classic fairy tale pretty well (just adapted to the city of Yuan with now Queen Isra and Gem as the stars).  The two work in the gardens every day to make a new garden that will supposedly stop mutations.  But not everyone wants Isra working with Gem.  Queue the villains: Junjie - the king's, and now Isra's chief adviser - and his son Bo.  Junjie is a wonderful villain.  He's mean and conniving.  He uses his power more than he should.  And he constantly grasps for more.

Bo, however, is not mean or evil.  He just always does what he seems to think is best.  I had a lot of trouble disliking him.  In fact, I kind of liked him.  I was a little sad when he eventually died.  I guess that is Jay's way of letting us know that most people are not just innately good or evil.  They do what they think is best with the given information.

So what did I think? Overall, I think it was a little fast paced.  I would have loved to see more of the relationship between Isra and Gem develop.  I do, however, love likable villains.  I didn't love Of Beast and Beauty, but I enjoyed it.  It's recommended to fantasy and fairy tale fans. 

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