Monday, 28 March 2011


I'm doing fairly well with my challenges this year, a couple of books read for both and the first book for Carl's Once Upon a Time V challenge is now under my belt: Beauty by Robin McKinley.

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.


DesLily said...

well.. i like the cover! lol.. and like you I don't like retold fairy tales.. the closest I came to liking a similiar books was Godmother the Secret Cinderalla Story. And since I liked it.. i quit while I was ahead lol..

but you read it all and that's a plus rather than stopping and setting it aside!!!

Kailana said...

Try Mercedes Lackey some time. The Fairy Godmother... McKinley writes interesting stories, but I am not crazy about her writing style. Lackey's series is retellings, but they are fun retellings. She essentially just makes fun of everything in a believable way.

katrina said...

I read this last year for the OUaT challenge and enjoyed it, I like retellings as a comfort read, but enjoy them more when something imaginative has been done with them.
This cover is lovely, the one I had was bright red and nowhere near as pretty.

fiction-books said...

Hi Cath,

Love the cover on your copy of the book, much nicer than the more up to date cover, yours fits with the genre of the story perfectly.

Fairy Tales are not something I have ever tried reading, not sure that it is really my genre.

I have seen the stage show of 'Beauty And The Beast' several times, both in London and in the US and enjoyed it, so I guess I should give the written adaptation of the story a try, shouldn't I ?

Jeane said...

This is my favorite Robin McKinley book. I really like your cover, one I haven't seen before.

Chris said...

I really want to read this! It's on my list...hmmm...I'll have to come up with a list of retold fairy tales for you to make you a convert :p

Anonymous said...

Hmm, never read Robin McKinley's "Sunshine"... in fact, I think I avoided it because it was about vampires. But it sounds like it's worth a bite.


Cath said...

Hey Pat! Yeah, the cover is rather nice. Quitting while you're ahead sounds good to me! lol. Yep I got through it and it wasn't hard but am glad to move on to other things now. Also... it was a book off the tbr pile so that makes me feel really smug. ;-)

Kailana: I've heard a lot about Mercedes Lackey but never read anything by her. My daughter has a few of hers so will nab one sometime to try.

Katrina: I agree that retold fairy tales are better when something imaginative has been done to them. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly was 'different' and pretty good for instance.

Yvonne: How lovely that you've seen the stage adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. It's a story I loved as a child and which still appeals to me. There was a TV series too, which I saw some of but not all.

Jeane: I had no idea the cover was so unusual. It's pretty old so may have been the original cover perhaps.

Chris: I think you'd have to try pretty hard in order to convert me. lol I wish I did like this type of fantasy story though - I hate not liking things that other people love.

Sharry: Ohhhh, Sunshine is *so* good. Much better than the current sort of supernatural romances. I believe a lot of people think that is RMc's best book.

Anonymous said...

McKinley is an incredible author, and I love her work. I actually just reviewed "Sunshine" this week on my blog, and I'm working on reading "Deerskin" right now.

"Beauty" was an excellent book. I love how McKinley can tell a story, but at the same time writes on a level that assumes that her writers are intelligent.

Cath said...

Grace: I too love McKinley's work and Sunshine is my favourite so far, although I still have plenty left to read.