Grace, Hope and Honour are three sisters, the daughters of a wealthy ship-owner, whose mother died when they were young. Honour hates her name and thinks being beautiful is preferable to being honourable and thus, from when she is very young, is called 'Beauty' by everyone who knows her. This turns out to be a misnomer, as it happens, because as she grows it becomes apparent that Beauty is not beautiful like her sisters - in fact, she thinks of herself as rather plain.
Luckily they're a very close-knit family. When their father's business fails and they are all rendered destitute, one of his employees, Germain, offers marriage to Hope and a place for them all at his new forge, inland, in his remote home village. Miles from anywhere in fact, in a small village surrounded by a large forest. They accept his offer and a new life begins, one of hard work and simple pleasures with new neighbours who are welcoming and supportive. One thing Germain insists on though, is that none of them should ever go into the forest as it's known locally to be enchanted and dangerous.
Returning from a journey, late one night, the father gets lost in bad weather. Mistaking his way he ends up in the middle of the forest and eventually discovers a castle. Here there is no bad weather and beautiful roses are blooming. He picks one for Beauty and brings the wrath of the castle owner down upon his head - The Beast. The Beast tells him that he'll allow him to leave but he has to return within a week with his youngest daughter.
Back home, the father admits to what has happened. The whole family are horrified and against Beauty going but she won't hear of it and volunteers to go back with her father. Devastated at having to leave her family, but determined to go through with it, Beauty leaves for the castle, having no idea what her fate will be or whether she will ever see her beloved sisters again.
I have to say first of all that I have a well developed dislike for retold fairy tales. I'm not sure why but think it might be to do with the fact that I like unpredictability in my reading, I don't want to know how the story is going to pan out before I even start. And of course, with a retold fairy tale the story and ending is well known by everyone.
That said, I do have quite a fondness for the story of Beauty and the Beast. The idea of falling in love with someone, not because of their good looks, but because of their good character and intelligence greatly appeals to me. I've only read one book by Robin McKinley, Sunshine, a vampire story which I absolutely love, and I was curious to see how she handled this completely predictable story. Very nicely is the answer to that question. The story is beautifully narrated in the first person - Beauty is a delight in that she's down to earth, has no airs and graces and is brave and 'honourable' as her proper name suggests. It also doesn't harm that she's bookish! You can't help but like her. The Beast is also nicely drawn... I love the idea that his library is full of books that don't yet exist and thus Beauty is able to read Sherlock Holmes!
The sense of place is also very good... I'm a forest and mountains sort of person anyway so that helps but it does sound idyllic regardless of that; the descriptions are beautiful as the family go about their new pioneer style life. (Think Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder). I was rather envious, I must admit, despite the fact that the family's fortunes were ruined. It struck me they hadn't ended up with such a bad bargain.
So, am I converted to retold fairy tales now? Nope. LOL. I did quite enjoy this one but that's probably enough now for at least another year. I picked the book up in a charity shop ages ago and several times I've been on the brink of putting it in the charity shop box, unread. But I'm glad I didn't as it made a delightful and easy start to Carl's challenge.