Hmm… I’m not quite sure how to rate this book. Indeed, some parts were rather good—inventive—but as I finished, I couldn’t help feeling a little unsatisfied.
Though, I first must give McKinley credit for being able to rewrite the story and make it seem fresh and original. It doesn’t read like it’s just another retelling of an old fairytale. I like how she infused magic into this world she created. The magic of gardening… the fragility of it all—the preparations and cultivation, how the blending of nature and nurture with a little attention and care can yield such wondrous beauty was a pleasure to read. Also enjoyed the idea of having sorcerers and witches living in towns, providing charms and spells to help the common folk deal with their everyday troubles, and yet also having them getting into their own scrapes in the process. And did happen to like the idea that the Beast’s castle runs on its own time, different from the outside world.
But, this is also where I believe McKinley made her error. Time runs slower at the castle: A day spent there is equivalent to a month outside its grounds. This only gives Beauty seven days for her to cultivate her feelings and love for the Beast. I can’t help but feel that that’s just not enough time for someone to develop such strong feelings, especially when for Beauty, it did only feel like that short span of time. It would’ve been better if the time factor were switched: one month at the castle equivalent to one day on the outside. This would’ve given more time for Beauty and the Beast to interact. As it stands, her recognition of her sentiments is rather sudden, since her initial feelings towards him were mostly pity and sorrow for his plight.
McKinley hardly includes any interaction between Beauty and the Beast. Beauty meets him for dinner, where they only exchange a few common pleasantries… that’s all. Later, when she discovers the artwork on the roof, he meekly admits he’s the artist, then backs away, never discussing his work, only watches and listens to her observations. This scene could have been beautiful, but it left me ultimately frustrated! McKinley, I felt, took the easy way out, describing their love for each other as more of an internal connection, than one forged by presence and communication, evidenced by the shared dreams, and parallel pain and scars (the pattern of his blood on the floor and her blood on her pillow, and the scars on each other’s hands left by the thorns of the rose). While I did find the idea of this connection interesting… that they’re two halves of the same whole: soulmates, I just wish their characters were more developed and fleshed out—that it was this along with the internal connection that finally brought them together.
Also, I couldn’t really figure out the presence of the squire’s eldest son, Jack. Initially, I thought that he might be a reincarnation of the evil, handsome sorcerer or at least was a host for some fragment of the sorcerer’s spirit, as their characters are similarly described. But at the end, nothing really comes of that connection, and I was left wondering what happened to him after that discussion in Jeweltongue's salon? To what purpose did Jack really serve in the story? I’m not sure how to answer that.
Yet, I did like how the book ended. It sort of makes sense, and reminded me of the final scenes from Jean Cocteau’s La belle et la bête
. There, when the Beast makes his transformation from the familiar form to a beautiful and handsome stranger, Beauty seems to have a sorrowful almost uncomfortable look about her… a look portraying the loss of what was familiar to her, the person with whom she fell in love. McKinley seems to take that idea and twists it, giving Beauty the chance to decide how she wants her story to end.