Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book Review - Beastly

Beastly is a modern day retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairly tale as told through the perspective of the Beast…a handsome wealthy teenager living in New York City. We've had modern retellings of the story before (there's currently a TV series running and there was another TV show in the ~80s that I recall). In both of those TV shows the Beast was a sort of protector to the Beauty. She in turn was entranced by him and wanted to know more. This book follows much more closely the general outline of the fairy tale. Rather than a physical deformity explained by science, the book starts us out with a handsome boy transformed into a beast by a magic curse placed on him by a witch. Rather than slinking around the city and protecting a beautiful woman, our Beast holes up in his mansion and shuns society eventually kidnapping a beautiful girl to live with him.

Even though the book stays true to many aspects of the original fairy tale, it is evident right from the start that this is a different world. In addition to the normal storyline as told by the Beast, we get interludes before each "section" of the book. In these preludes to each section we read the transcript of an Internet Chat room occupied by people/creatures magically transformed in some way. We've got a bear (?), a frog and a mermaid all chatting with one another and moderated by a (presumably) human psychologist interested in exploring the turmoil these individuals are going through. Part of me found these chat room sessions a little distracting. They were interesting and fun but they were distracting because they didn't have enough meat on their bones. I would have preferred there to be more "chat room" plot or to have them removed entirely. I did discover that this book is going to be part of a series (presumably focusing on the Witch) so perhaps some of the other chat room characters will show up in the other books? I don't know.

I found it very fun to be given the Beast's first person perspective of this fairy tale. We get to spend a while with the Beast BEFORE he is transformed. We attend school with him and see him belittle those who aren't as "perfect" as him. He has a huge superiority complex and is painfully cruel to everyone around him. He smugly manipulates teachers and other students. He shamelessly insults friends and strangers alike. He has no respect for anyone around him. In spite of his superiority complex we see inside his mind and sense twinges of regret and disappointment with his life. He has a severely strained relationship with his father. He has friends at school but he feels like perhaps they're using him for his wealth and popularity. He certainly doesn't feel like they're at the same level as he is and not wholly worth his attention. Even before the curse comes around it is very clear that his life may be full of material wealth and beauty but it is also very hollow.

Knowing the plot of the fairy tale, it was very easy to identify the witch even before she revealed her identity as a witch. Still, the way the witch revealed her power and placed the curse was unique and fun. Similarly fun and unique were the reactions to the curse. Since he's only a teenager, the Beast had to deal with different implications than in the fairy tale. Excuses were made to keep him out of school. His wealthy father flew him around the world in search of doctors, specialist, plastic surgeons who could help fix or minimize the beastliness. Eventually our Beast is given his own new home to live in along with two servants…a maid and a tutor. Apart from that, he is cut off from human interaction.

He wallows for a while. Then he dives into his studying and various home and personal improvement projects. He eventually gives up on the possibility that he'll ever break the curse and determines to live as a beast forever more and just make the best of it. Naturally circumstances intervene and a plan is presented to bring a girl into his life.

I wasn't planning to go through the plot as much as I did. For those familiar with the fairy tale, there aren't any real spoilers here. For those unfamiliar with the fairy tale, I tried to steer clear of spoilers, but some things may be surprising.

Still, the entertainment in this book comes not so much in the overall plot (which is familiar and reused) but in the tone, style and execution of the plot. Having such an intimate view into the Beast's mind was troubling at times (especially when he was so cruel and heartless) but it also gave a much closer insight into the changes taking place in him and his own realization of his behavior and how his attitude changed over time.

As is the case of fairy tales, there needs to be a large suspension of disbelief. Not only in terms of the magic used but also in terms of the reactions and behaviors of the characters. As I said, the initial reactions of the Beast and his father felt fairly realistic. But other characters' behaviors were a little harder to believe. Initially some of their actions felt spot on but especially as time went on the character interactions were hard to believe. That's a minor gripe since, as I mentioned, you need a certain degree of suspended disbelief, especially with fairy tales.

The ending of the main fairy tale was interesting and closer to the Disney rendition than the original fairy tale. Again, if you know the story, you'll know how it's going to end. You can still rest assured that there is enough difference and suspenseful action to keep you interested.

What I found interesting about the end of the book was what happened AFTER the end of the fairy tale. No we don't get to see long into the "happily ever after" phase but we DO get to find out what happens to the witch. The witch's story is actually rather interesting and involves some intriguing revelations. As I mentioned above, I believe this book is going to be part of a series involving more of the witch's tales. Whether that means more stories of people she's cursed or more about her story, I don't know. I hope we get to learn more about her as she seems to be a very interesting character.

I've kind of rambled through this review. I think the main point is that this is a retelling of a familiar story so there aren't too many surprises but I felt like it was an interesting and compelling modernization. The similarities are plentiful and makes this feel very familiar and comfortable. The differences are not outrageous and over the top but fit into the story naturally in a way to pull it into the 21st century. It does have some PG-13 themes so I wouldn't recommend it to your 6-year old "Beauty and the Beast" loving little princess. But it should hit home with the teenage and YA audience.

3 out of 5 stars

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Brian Miller said...

is this what the new movie was based on? came out about a year ago? it was a pretty cool movie...would prob give it 3 stars as well...

Okie said...

Yes there was a movie made based on this book. I haven't seen the movie. My wife saw it and said it was pretty good.

In the book, he was transformed into an actual beast a la fur and claws and fangs and all. In the movie, it looked more like he had some weird veiny skin disease or something. Which seemed like an interesting departure, but probably more realistic (and less "out there" for the 21st century)