Of Beast and Beauty
By Stacey Jay
Expected publication July 23, 2013 by Delacorte Press
In Yuan, one of only three domed cities left, blind Princess Isra has been raised, knowing she will one day sacrifice herself to ensure her city continues to thrive. In the desert outside the dome, Gem - one of the people known as the Monstrous - has been raised, knowing that he must discover the secret of Yuan's magic to save his people from dying. Neither has been prepared for what will happen when they meet.
So, I know I've sworn up and down that I am trying to read more middle-grade books - and I am, I promise you! But then pretties like this pop up on Edelweiss and I just can't resist clicking that "Request this title" button. I'm only human, right?
I first fell in love with Stacey Jay's books with the Megan Berry series - they were smart, fun, funny, and featured an awesome cast of characters, including one of my favorite heroines. Then, I read Juliet Immortal. I didn't love it as much as Megan Berry and I haven't yet picked up the sequel, but I was still pretty sure that Jay was an awesome author. That brings me to Of Beast and Beauty. Y'all know that I'm a sucker for a fairy tale retelling, so this had my name all over it. And let me tell you, it did not disappoint.
I loved pretty much everything about this story. I loved how the elements of "Beauty and the Beast" were sometimes obvious and sometimes more subtle. I loved that Jay really highlights the beautiful and the beastly in both her main characters. I loved the alternating viewpoints, and I even loved that Bo narrated some chapters, though I felt like his character suffered an unnecessary end. I loved the struggles of both Isra and Gem as they uncover the truths about themselves and their people and begin to wonder what their feelings for each other truly are.
Did I mention that I loved the interpretation of the fairy tale? Because it is truly fantastic. Seeing as I love retellings, I've read my fair share of them, and this one has quickly moved up on my list as one of my favorites. I mean, I find it literally astounding that authors can still find something fresh and new to do with these stories that are centuries old and have been retold countless times. Not every retelling is as successful as the next and Jay proves that she can deftly handle it and make it an awesome story. I loved that Isra and Gem take turns playing the beast and the beauty. I loved the incorporation of the roses and the dark magic. I loved the curse on the women. I loved the history of Yuan and its people. This is a truly magical and imaginative novel and I loved it to bits.
That's not to say I didn't find flaws. While it makes me feel like a bad person to say this, I found Gem's son to be unnecessary to the overall story, only seeming to play a true part at the end. As I mentioned, I also felt that Bo didn't quite get the ending he deserved. And Junjie may have been a bit too hardcore villain in a novel otherwise populated with more shades of grey.
Overall, however, this is a truly beautiful book. It's stunningly written, with characters I cared about and a story I couldn't tear myself away from. Highly recommended.
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.