This book was exactly what I needed after the somewhat disappointing Fearie Tales (please see last week’s epic review for details) because it was wonderful. I LOVE Beauty and the Beast, so much so that it has had a major influence on my own book-in-progress. Of course, it isn’t a story without its faults – keeping a woman prisoner in an attempt to make her love you is in fact not romantic and is in fact a crime – but my love for it refuses to die. The Beast’s Heart takes the original tale and the subsequent popular culture built around it and retells it from the perspective of the ‘Beast’, cursed for his cold-heartedness and trapped both within his own monstrous body and within the lands he once owned.
When Monsieur De La Noue stumbles across the grounds of the castle, The Beast sees his chance not to be alone, and when he takes a rose from the gardens for his youngest daughter Isabeau he unwittingly choses the Beast’s companion. The curse seems to act independently of its caster – who may or may not be a majestic lesbian fairy, let me know your reading of it! – and while it affords the Beast some control over his domain, it increasingly disobeys him for its own agenda as the novel progresses.
This book is beautifully written, combining the lyricism of classical literature with some of the humour and awareness of modern writing – Isabeau and her Beast have some very funny moments, and she is afforded much more agency and personality than in the original tales and those of the time. When the Beast asks her to marry him – which he does a lot, a point not working in his favour given her repeated uncomfortable responses – she is allowed to say no, she is allowed to leave, she is not threatened by his proposals, only sorry that she cannot give him the answer he wants. Given that she doesn’t think he is human, and he is bound by the curse not to tell her that he is, the fact that they fall in love is handled very well. She forgets, with his human attire and habits, that he is not human – and longs for a world where he is.
I like that we see his selfish intentions – if she loves him, he’ll be free, so she must love him – gradually give way to an earnest desire to please her even if it displeases him to do it. She is never his prisoner, he makes it clear she may leave, she is never bound to accept his proposals, he makes it clear she may refuse. He is desperate, but not desperate enough to demand anything of her – even her stay in his castle is voluntary after all.
You see the actions of Isabeau’s family during her absence, you grow fond of them, you root for them and you watch as they cope – or don’t cope – with the idea that Isabeau may never come back. It’s a very emotional story, and it manages to inject some humanity into the fairy tale. Her father especially struggles with the disappearance of his youngest child, fighting to keep a roof above the heads of his other two daughters and blaming himself for the misfortune that has begun to haunt their family.
I also want to add a quick shout out to the invisible, magical servants that maintain the Beast’s chateau, for putting up with this melodramatic man-beast for so long and somehow managing to be sarcastic despite being both invisible and silent. The magic in this story and how it works is definitely one of my favourite aspects of the book, it’s wonderful. It’s also the ultimate wing-man, single handedly setting up foods and events that will impress Isabeau when the Beast himself is slightly clueless.
This is a book about allowing yourself to feel emotions, instead of pushing them away or denying them, and accepting fault instead of placing it on others. It is about two people falling in love – albeit under very strange circumstances – yes, but it is also about a man unable to look at his own portrait for fear of what he will see there, learning to accept his part in what has happened to him and fight to change.
I would highly recommend this book to any fantasy and fairy tale fans out there, and any Beauty and the Beast lovers like myself. It was an absolute pleasure to read, and I adored it.
A copy of The Beast’s Heart was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
Overall rating: 5 books out of 5.