Rating: 3.5 stars
Buy Link:
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Length: Novel

 

Gabrielle is a spirited young woman. She’s a skilled hunter, a compassionate caretaker for her father’s kingdom, and now… she is of age. Of age to marry and to be a wife and mother. Instead of being a princess, free to live her life as she pleases, she will have to bow her head to her husband, the man who will rule her father’s kingdom, and, eventually, be the mother of a future king. And it burns. Why can’t she be a Queen in her own right? Why can’t she rule her father’s kingdom — her kingdom? Simply because she lacks a bit of something between her legs?

It doesn’t help that Gabrielle has no interest in men. Their touches leave her wanting a bath, their attentions are wearying, and their kisses repugnant. She finds relief and understanding in her dearest friend, Rosie, to whom she gave her first kiss, her first caress, her first everything. If only life were a fairy tale, the two of them could spend forever together. But when a hunting accident leaves Rosie dead and Gabrielle cursed into a beast’s form, she knows she will spend the remainder of her life with grief as her only companion.

In a small town, Charmaine, a merchant’s daughter, ventures into the deep dark woods in search of her missing father. What she finds is a magical castle, a lonely beast longing for her lost love, and a friendship that will change everything.

This is a story told in three parts: A whimsical fairy tale about a princess and her companion, a Beauty and the Beast retelling, and a series of scenes and notes of a darker, colder work of a queen’s duty to marry and bear children while being in love with her best friend. The amalgamation isn’t quite perfect, which leads to odd moments, character shifts, tonal shifts, and an overall feeling of imbalance. The Gabrielle we meet in the first third is a spirited young woman pushing at the boundary of social mores to try to do her duty and still be happy. Then she is cursed, and the beastly form she is turned into leaves her bitter, morose, and lonely. There are still shades of the young girl she was in the woman she is now, and it almost works. Until the the curse is removed and Gabrielle is now bitter, calculating, manipulative, and — while she is still taking charge as a queen — almost utterly passive as a woman. Both her husband and her lover take charge in the relationships with Gabrielle just giving in and going along with the excuse of duty. The progression of her character almost works, but so much of her character has to bend to fit the story she’s been pushed into that the last thirty percent of the book or so has a Gabrielle so removed from the version she was in the earlier moments — whether princess or beast — that it honestly felt like a different book entirely.

Charmaine, the Beauty in this retelling, is

Spoiler title
the reincarnation of Rosie, Gabrielle’s lost love. But she is not Rosie. She is entirely and utterly herself, and both she and Gabrielle have moments where they wrestle with this idea; does Gabrielle love only the parts of Charmaine that are Rosie? Does she love her because she is Rosie reborn?
However, Charmaine is, as her name hints, a charming young woman who earns Gabrielle’s affections on her own merit. Charmaine is very much the protagonist of her own story, moving things along; she takes chances, makes decisions, and is so full of light and life that it’s easy to see why the Gabrielle, during her cursed time, is drawn to her.

And then, as with Gabrielle, in the final third of the book the personality is gone. Charmaine bows her head meekly to do what she’s told. She frets, she wrings her hands, she does nothing. And it’s a shame. The first 60-70% of this book is a pleasant enough read, though the pacing issues are noticeable. Some parts are lingered on, such as an older brother’s dalliances or a sister’s unhappiness which, while they add to the characters, slow down and distract from the story being told. Then others are so rushed through, like the growing friendship between Gabrielle, Charmaine, and Bertrand (Charmaine’s brother).

The writing is very, very adverb heavy as the author presumably tries to work within a fairy tale feeling, which is fine, but the final third is rushed, feeling more like an outline of a story or vignettes from another book and are so removed both in feeling and character from the rest of the book that it really didn’t work for me.

There were some nice moments in this book. I enjoyed Gabrielle coming to peace with Charmaine as her own person rather than

Spoiler title
being Rosie reborn
, the story of the merchant and how he failed his children as a father, and of Charmaine’s relationships with her sisters and brothers. That last third, though. In the end, I can’t recommend this book, but I will be keeping an eye on the author for future works because what worked really did work.

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