In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret...
In the domed city of Yuan, the blind Princess Isra, a Smooth Skin, is raised to be a human sacrifice whose death will ensure her city’s vitality. In the desert outside Yuan, Gem, a mutant beast, fights to save his people, the Monstrous, from starvation. Neither dreams that together, they could return balance to both their worlds.
Isra wants to help the city’s Banished people, second-class citizens despised for possessing Monstrous traits. But after she enlists the aid of her prisoner, Gem, who has been captured while trying to steal Yuan’s enchanted roses, she begins to care for him, and to question everything she has been brought up to believe.
As secrets are revealed and Isra’s sight, which vanished during her childhood, returned, Isra will have to choose between duty to her people and the beast she has come to love.
I dive into my TBR pile (quite literally almost as it took a bit of digging to find!) to continue my Beauty and the Beast readathon with Stacey Jay’s Of Beast and Beauty! Truly one of the most unique retellings I’ve read so far! In this story, it’s not so clearly seen as a Beauty and the Beast retelling, parts of it ring true to the fairy tale of old, but there are more parts that are all the story’s own!
We have here a strange and futuristic world, sort of has that feeling of another planet, which may in fact be accurate. Isra is the blind princess of the Smooth Skins, and she suddenly finds herself queen when her father was killed by a Monstrous, one who lives outside their domed city and, you guessed it, has monstrous traits, like claws and being really big and strong and covered with spattering’s of scales. Gem was one of the Monstrous who broke in, but not to kill, only to take some of the roses who are rumored to have healing properties, how else would the Smooth Skins continue to thrive over time? But he fails, and is caught and imprisoned.
So right away we’re seeing a bit of a reversal in circumstance with our beauty and beast, yet the guy is still the “beast”. There’s a particular legend that comes in this story and it basically goes that when the city starts to decline the queen must kill herself to feed the roses her blood. And then basically all will be well in the kingdom until the next time the city begins to decline. Isra isn’t too happy with this, she’s basically been raised to die for her people as long as she marries first, producing an heir, ironically, isn’t necessarily a top priority for the king can always remarry and have a kid with wife number two, or three, or four! Yeah, not the best of societies we got going here.
But then Isra gets the idea that if she is able to grow more plants in her garden that this can somehow save her people. I actually didn’t quite understand how she came to this belief, but she basically starts working with Gem, her Monstrous prisoner, in order to find the bulbs and plant them. Ironically, we even have a sort of Gaston character in this story. Bo, while not being the overly self-centered, pompous jerk, still has ambitions of his own. He wants to be king and he realizes marrying Isra is the only one to achieve that goal.
The story isn’t without its mystery though! There are some pretty conniving characters in this one! Everyone seems to have their own goal when it comes to Isra, who really just wants to be able to live her life and make her own decisions. Quite like Belle in a way, she wants to escape the future Fate has planned for her.
It’s rather chilling what this society does to their queen! If she doesn’t willing kill herself, well, they make her be. It’s freaking creepy! Of course, we basically get the history told to us, as Isra is the next in line for dying. It’s not like she could ask her mother for the story behind the way things are done. And really, who could she ask when it seems everyone working for her is duplicitous?
The romance was quite sweet! True, there’s still that Stockholm Syndrome that comes about with any Beauty and the Beast tale, but Isra does begin to show compassion for the Monstrous through her time with Gem, and it’s what really starts having her “people” think she’s unfit to rule, as if being blind weren’t enough! Which was another thing!
The description mentions this, so I don’t think of it as too much of a spoiler! But I was baffled to realize there’s a poison that can make you blind! That if you keep taking it, you remain blind! And when this is revealed to Isra and she stops taking it, her sight returns. And chaos follows shortly after. It was a little disheartening to see how even when you’re the ruling queen your “staff” can still work against you and force you to rule “their” way.
This book obviously wasn’t without its dark side. But there was still the fairy tale romance to be swept away with! And the ending itself was quite shocking it sooo many ways! You can definitely see which parts of the Disney movie inspired Stacey while she wrote this! And since the Disney movie was inspired by the fairy tale, in a roundabout way, this book had all the right elements! The ending itself fit just right with the story and I truly enjoyed the “epilogue” at the end! It brought us a nice roundabout way of seeing the ending through!
Some things that had me struggling a bit was some of the history behind this new world. We get some pieces of it here and there, but I felt like I never quite had a good grasp on it all as a whole. One that would help me to understand what/where/how this world is and works. It’s definitely like no place we’ve seen before and that’s truly the magic of fantasy reads, but at the same time, it made it harder for me to form a better picture of this place that our characters called home. I think in parts it was too hard to describe and explain so when we were getting those bits of history it just made it hard for me to build that foundation. I struggle even with words to describe this to you without getting too spoilery, just know that the history behind this world, confused me and it seemed that knowing its history was important to understanding the story at large.
But overall, it was still a pretty enjoyable read, ignoring that factor. Isra may be the princess of this story but she definitely was no damsel in distress, even when the times she was blind. She’s a fierce sort of young woman and I loved her for it! Her bravery is too be admired, and of course the same can be said for Gem as well! So if you want to add another unique and refreshing Beauty and the Beast retelling to your palette, be sure to check out Stacey Jay’s Of Beast and Beauty!
Overall Rating 3.5/5 stars