Of Beast and BeautyOf Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to love this book. I love fairy tale retellings and have an affinity for Beauty and the Beast in particular. However, this book just didn’t quite hit the sweet spot for me. The prose was beautiful and poetic (and not just for a YA novel) without being purple. The characters were complex and intriguing. The attack on the story was not the same ole hum drum. And, yet, the novel just didn’t reel me in.

Of Beast and Beauty is not your typical Beauty and the Beast story. I absolutely love the beauty and the beast tale. But, after the abomination that was Beastly, I took a break from them. (And don’t even get me started on the atrocity that was the movie. Something about that whining pretty boy sneer wants for violence or vomiting. Why did I see the movie, you ask. Because I am an awesome freaking friend.) But I digress. The beauty in our tale believes herself as ugly and is no paragon of kindness and virtue. Gem, our beast, is an angry captive in a war between the two races who is out to steal the secret to Isra’s people’s believed success at surviving a dying world. Isra is part Rapunzel, part Sleeping Beauty, and part Juliet (oh yes there is a bit of star-crossed lover action.)

The book’s plot is very complex. It stretches across a galaxy and hundreds of years to give us the Domed Cities, enchanted roses, a tower where Isra is annoyingly cloistered to protect her from the world, a vast dying planet, a false history, an oh so mysterious Covenant, and a race of the mutated who send Gem to find a way to stop their children from dying. The characters are forced question the definitions of true beauty in a world that values physical perfection over moral corruption. It deals with inborn prejudices, unreasoning anger, personal insecurities, and righteous failings.

For a time, I had hope that my last act of cruelty would sway the humans in a way my pleas for mercy had not. But as time passed—hundreds and hundreds of years slipping away as I tossed on the wind, a ghost haunting lands where I used to live and breathe—I saw I had accomplished nothing. The world outside the domes continued to die. The land and the creatures upon it cried out for aid, but I could only watch as elders suffered and young ones starved. I had nothing left to give. I had lost everything but my voice.

And what good is a voice when so few will listen?

Despite all this in a beautiful package, ultimately I couldn’t get past the flaws. Namely that I felt that the story trudged far too slowly for my taste losing my interest at times and that the love story felt a forced. In addition, I loved the descriptions of the city and the desert but felt as if we were only getting half of the story.

The desert bears their scars. The land spread out below us is all but barren. The desert floor is baked hard. The wind can barely move it. There are no more dust storms here. The ground cracks like eggshells, the pieces moving farther apart with every month that passes without rain. The trees are dead, and the few cacti that stubbornly push their way up from the scarred earth cast gnarled shadows, crooked fingers.

Fantastic prose, as I’ve said. But while the descriptions are beautiful, where are the details of the two cultures? Why don’t I get a feel for how the Monstrous live; or the lives of the citizens of Yuan? Altogether these “flaws” kept me from really getting into the book.

However, the good parts did keep me interested. The complexity of the characters was a special treat. I love complex characters! For me, character development is of huge importance and these had it all. They were flawed and human. Bo, Isra, and Gem where almost a little too complex at times, but it didn’t detract from the story because it was BELIEVABLE! When you hate something, you are resistant to seeing its good points. When people do you a bad turn, it is hard to see the good in them. I hate when books spin the character’s opinions 180 degrees on a dime. Both Isra and Gem fight their feelings for each other. He thinks she is weak and selfish. She thinks he is a part of the monsters that killed her father. To add to that, they are from different races who are ultimately despise the existence of the other and with war brewing between the races. Star crossed lovers indeed. Then there is Bo. You are set up to hate the man. He is cloying and ambitious. He believes what he believes and won’t listen to reason. He is patronizing and condescending. His father is a pompous weasel. But then Bo surprises you time and again and, grudgingly, you can’t help but not dislike the little schmuck.

It isn’t right that she should live in darkness. I don’t care what my baba said, I will not see my queen suffer any more than she must by virtue of her birth. I will see her eyes light up with wonder. I will see her smile as she looks at me and knows I am the one who restored her.

The complexities of the characters alone might have been enough for me to give this book more stars…except…gah..the love story part. Isra and Gem hate each other. They were born to hate each other. Having been fed a pack of lies about the other races from the day they are born, they can’t help but meet one another head on with a pack of prejudice. What makes it worse for them is that Gem can’t understand why Isra is so passive a ruler and Isra doesn’t trust Gem enough to explain that she isn’t a real ruler to her people and is merely just waiting to die. Yet with all this history and misunderstanding between them, they suddenly can’t bear to be apart!? They go from halting disgust to complete kiss-me-I’m-yours in a turn of a page!?

The most accomplished lover in Yuan kissed me, long and deep, and continues to do his best to seduce me, and I feel nothing but vague curiosity and more pronounced anxiety. Now a beast from the desert stands too close, and I am dizzy with wanting him. I crave his calloused hands on me.

Eh! I just do not buy it. How aggravating. You have these wonderful, complex characters who refuse to give up ideals or desires and then you heads or tails the romance? The story would have been much richer had the romance been less of a focus than the plot.

While I loved the writing, characters, and overall premise of the story, I just couldn’t get past it’s hangups. Ultimately it just didn’t hold me as well as I’d hoped.