Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

Brendan’s father, Etienne, lost the family fortune to a game of chance. Brendan was forced to give up his musical studies at his Paris university, his sisters lost the favor of any potential suitors, and the whole family had to relocate to a humble house far out in the country. Then, when Etienne received word that one of his long-lost mercantile ships had come in, all he had to do was gather the goods and the family wealth would surely be restored. Except, en route to the port, Etienne got lost in a terrible storm and ended up a reluctant guest at a mysterious castle filled with fine things, invisible servants, and a terrible beast. Etienne found himself in dire straits when he helped himself to a memento not freely given and, ultimately, his gambling habits left him not only in worse financial shape than he’d ever been in, but also having promised to send one of his children to live in the castle as a companion to the beast.

For more than two hundred years, Beast has been living alone in his castle. His monstrous form and his utter solitude are a curse—they are punishment for his complete lack of sympathy. Beast knows true love can break the curse, but with the castle itself able to keep outsiders away, he has given up hope of ever becoming a man again. Until a foolish merchant with a gambling problem stumbles into his castle, steals one of Beast’s roses, and loses bet after bet trying to win back the rose he stole. By the end of it, Beast has secured a promise from the man that one of his daughters will come live with him. But rather than a great feminine beauty, a striking and terribly headstrong young man named Brendan blusters into the castle instead. Enraged at the trickery, Beast orders Brendan to leave…but they soon discover the castle itself has a few tricks of its own that force Brendan and Beast to get to know one another. They soon resign themselves to a tentative peace, each agreeing Brendan is only staying until the weather breaks so he can return home for his sister and share with her stories of how generous and kind Beast is. But somewhere along the way, Beast realizes there could be no better company than Brendan. For Brendan, however, the feelings grow much deeper and soon, he’s trying to find ways to convince Beast two men can be more than great companions.

Brendan and the Beast is a retelling of the classic fairytale Beauty and the Beast. Author Fox Beckman retains so many of the hallmarks of the tale—a cursed prince, a stolen rose, an unwilling captive, enemies-to-lovers, and true love. Beckman places a delightful focus on the relationship between Beast and Brendan; I ravenously read page after page, eager to see how these two would slip from captive and captor to lovers. This medium works so well for showcasing how the dynamic between the two shifts. There is the eerie mystery of Brendan discovering magic is real and very much at work in Beast’s castle. There is Beast slowly rediscovering what it means to feel anything that isn’t simple animal instinct. And eventually, there is a delicious slow burn romance. I devoured the little tells of romantic attraction and the slow, gentle physical tokens of affections. And perhaps the most intimate scenes are rather flowery in their description, the language of discovering passion hiding as much as it reveals. But for me, this was a rare treat where I truly preferred this more subtle approach to two characters exploring their physical connection.

As individuals, Brendan and Beast have enough depth to make them compelling to read. Beast has a handful of scenes where he gets to capitalize on the fact that he only looks like an animal. There are also a couple scenes where he gives into the baser side of being, well, a beast. For example, when Beast is frustrated by not being able to recognize the first inklings of his being romantically attracted to Brendan, Beast goes out hunting (as in he takes down an animal with his own claws). There are also a few instances where he tries to hide behind his animal form, like when Brendan talks to and of Beast as though he were physically a man, which sometimes only made Beast more keenly aware that outwardly, he is still that animal.

I feel like Brendan gets a more complete history. His life prior to meeting Beast is pretty clearly laid out: he was a university student, he loved playing stringed instruments, he had a lover at school who left him. That said, I think he really shines when he’s interacting with Beast. From the get-go, Brendan seems unafraid of Beast. I loved their initial meeting where Beast realizes he’s not getting Etienne’s daughter as a guest but his son. Beast is angry and lashing out—a formidable visage for poor Brendan who’s literally just found out magic and such things exist. Brendan’s defense mechanism is to talk a lot, something that further irritates Beast who calls Brendan on it. Brendan replies, “Apparently I babble when I’m terrified?” It’s such a small exchange, but I love how it makes Brendan relatable and vulnerable.

Overall, I feel like the Brendan and Beast romance really shines in this story. I, personally, really loved how Beckman resolved Beast’s curse, as well. The logistics of the enchanted castle and the realities of Brendan’s family life all get laid out clearly in the story, helping build up the two worlds Beast and Brendan come from. Those supporting elements also get neatly buttoned up at the end, which is nice in terms of not having loose ends…but it does have a bit of a perfunctory feel to it, as well. There are also a few fantastic ideas that splash on the page, but don’t get developed. For example, there’s a hot minute where Beast explains that he only wants Brendan as a guest so Brendan can convince his sister Beast is a good guy (ergo, the sister will happily go to the castle to fall in love with Beast to break the spell). But after this is brought up, it feels like it just sort of gets forgotten by the next scene and so this seems like a bit of a missed opportunity for some hurt/comfort or high angst.

Brendan and the Beast is a lovely queer reimagining of Beauty and the Beast. If you’ve ever wanted a retelling where the two love interests actually falling in love feels like a natural progression of getting to know someone (and almost entirely lacking the prisoner vibes so often present in the story), then I think you’ll love this version. Readers who like slow burns, opposites attract, and gay awakening (hell, just romantic awakening) are sure to find enjoyable elements to this story.