Sunday, September 1, 2013

Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay

"In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret. The secret was as old as the cracked cobblestone streets of Yuan, as peculiar as the roses that bloom eternally within the domed city's walls, as poisonous as forgotten history and the stories told in its place..."

The city of Yuan is enclosed by a dome that keeps out the savage monstrous people who roam the deserts. The dome also protects the normal smooth skin people from being mutated by the environment on the outside. Yuan is a successful city, and to ensure that success, a female royal must be sacrificed to the magical roses. These roses ensure plentiful food and water for the citizens. Recently, the city has been on a decline. The roses demand a proper blood sacrifice, and soon.

Outside the dome, the people of the desert are also suffering. Men, women, and children are starving to death. They even poison themselves to make it quick, rather than endure the slow torture of starvation. Gem, the chief's son, is part of a group that breaks into the dome. His village's shaman has seen that they need Yuan's magic roses in order to save the people. Once inside the dome, stuff goes down. Gem runs into Isra (More on her in a minute), who alerts the guards. The others leave, but Gem is held as prisoner in a gesture of good faith to ensure that the villagers won't attack the dome again.

Unfortunately, the King of Yuan was killed in the attack. His death means that his daughter, Isra, is now the Queen. Isra has been locked in a tower since she was four years old. An accident took her sight, so she was hidden from the people. She also suspects that she is deformed, as she is very tall and her skin is rough and a little scaly. Isra must now get married and then she will be sacrificed to the roses, hopefully in several decades. In the meantime, Isra tries to change things in Yuan. She gets Gem to help her plant a garden in order to reverse or prevent the mutations that are springing up among the people. She also wants to let the mutated and smooth skins live together, rather than keeping the former locked away in a ghetto area. Unfortunately, despite being Queen, Isra meets resistance from her father's top advisor. She will also have to marry his son, who ends up being kind of nice, though he is also racist and very promiscuous.

Obviously, as this is a Beauty and the Beast retelling, Isra must end up with Gem. The reversal of the roles is interesting, with the man being the prisoner and the woman the captor. I thought the reversal from mortal enemies to true love was a bit rushed, but it wasn't terrible. I'm not an expert in how Stockholm Syndrome works. I was impressed by the combination of the fairy tale premise with a dystopian setting. It makes for an incredibly original twist on an old story.

I received my copy of Of Beast and Beauty from Edelweiss, courtesy of Delacorte Press. It's available for purchase now.

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