Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book 28 of '11 Beauty by Robin McKinley

Dust Jacket Description:

"Beauty has never liked her nickname. She is thin and awkward; it is her two sisters who are beautiful. But what she lacks in looks she can perhaps make up for in courage.

When her father comes home with the tale of an enchanted castle in the forest and the terrible promise he had to make to the Beast who lives there, Beauty declares she must go to the castle, a prisoner of her own free will."

Characters: It's been a day since I've completed this novel, and I still can't decide how I feel about Beauty as a character. Surely she's intelligent, resourceful and has a strong narrative voice, but it's hard to see Beauty hold true, vibrant emotions until her imprisonment with the Beast. How she takes a back seat in a large part of the book is most likely the reason I didn't adore her character.

Beauty's family is, oddly enough, a strong, healthy unit. As opposed to original versions of this fairy tale, Beauty's sisters are just as, if not more according to Beauty, lovely and kind. Beauty's father does treat Beauty in a slighter higher regard than his other children, but he is not mean, cruel, or obvious about it. There's nothing cruel or ugly about these relationships, and while this is unusual for a retelling, I found it a little boring. The beginning of the story was like reading a schedule template they have in organizational books. You're cozily immersed in another person's daily life, but there's no compelling reason to care about what's happening. The characters are pleasant and there's no depth beyond that, and you are obliged to wait till the plot thickens. It was a blank way to begin the story and lasted too long for me to thoroughly enjoy.

As for the Beast, his personality is almost non existent. He's very gentlemanly, which was such a bizarre trait to experience as someone who grew up with the easily angered but lovable Disney movie Beast. Despite Beauty being imprisoned, the Beast is very respectful in all other choices - which I know isn't saying a lot, but hey, it shows his personality. When the Beast asks Beauty every night if she'll marry him and she refuses, he seems to take it easily enough. The only time we see him in a rage in behind a door, getting angry at Beauty's servants for trying to force her to wear clothing she didn't want. There's nothing truly beastly about the Beast besides his appearance. This was a disappointment. He's a pleasant character, but there was not the complexity I was hoping for in his character. The Disney movie did a better job of showing the Beast's character development.

McKinley did do a good job of the evolution of the Beauty and the Beast's relationship. It was easy to see Beauty gradually falling in love with him. However, her immediate pity of him once she's in the castle seemed to add a new level to the Stockholm Syndrome aspect of her character.

I didn't hate these cast of characters and I didn't love them either. They were interesting enough to hold my attention, but not enough to adore the novel. 3 and a half flowers.

Writing: I felt myself falling into the tone of the writing style with little effort. There's a great historical, ethereal fantasy vibe to the book that I loved. It fit the original fairy tales well. Only thing I didn't enjoy about the writing was how often McKinley would interrupt herself and do it in the exact same way the next sentence. Four and a half flowers.

Plot: It takes an eternity for the book to get into the meat of the story, and once it gets there it goes too fast. However, my favourite aspect of reading this novel was how it made me think about how the original tale almost doesn't truly depict its moral. What is Beauty actually being challenged to see in the Beast's personality that isn't already evident in his wealth? I understand this tactic, which reminds me of how Elizabeth fell in love with Pemberley before Mr. Darcy. Beauty needs to have a comfortable amount of space from the Beast to make him seem reasonable, which only a lot of physical room can provide. However, it would be a totally different situation if Beauty was on equal economical footing as the Beast. She wouldn't even receive luxury in exchange for her life's opportunities. Seeing a retelling that attacks this angle would be interesting. I'll wait for it. 3 flowers.

Upsettingly quick. I needed more time to hear more about a lot of the aspects only mentioned in the last ten pages of the book. 2 flowers.

Dust Jacket Description:
Concise and clear. Doesn't make me want to read the book, but does its job well. 3 flowers.

This girl is not the Beauty in my head. Nor is the rose anything like the one in the book. 2 flowers.

While I seem very critical in this review, I actually enjoyed the mood this book put me in and the thoughts it made me entertain. If you have an opinionated girl around the ages of 8-12 in your life, she'll probably enjoy this book. 4 flowers.


  1. Hm. What an interesting review. We're disappointed to hear that the story moved so slowly, but at least you enjoyed the book overall?

    If you're willing to give Robin McKinley another chance, we HIGHLY recommend The Blue Sword, The Hero and the Crown, and Pegasus.

  2. Thanks so much for reading my incredibly long review and commenting! I love your blog.

    I did enjoy the feel of this book, but it's odd how often I sit down to write a review and realize all the technical issues with its crafting. I'm certainly willing to give McKinley another try and I'll take your recommendation! She's the kind of author who would have been one of my favourites when I was around 8 or 9.

  3. I preferred her Rose Daughter retelling, but with her non-action stuff McKinley takes her time. Pegasus is HUGE and the pace is glacial (it's actually only half of the story..) but her writing is the epitome of the fantasy author to me. Pegasus has crazy-detailed world building. Most people don't take well to it, though.

    A lot of readers seem to enjoy The Hero and the Crown/The Blue Sword from her the most (more action?) but Spindles End (which is an odd mix of action and slow - I read it ages ago) and Rose Daughter are my all-time favorite McKinley's. I'm bad and love all of her books even if they have problems. :)