Saturday, February 25, 2012

Beauty and the Beast Gets a Make-Over

The Merchant's Daughter
I love a repurposed story, like this retelling of Beauty and the Beast. It is a great way to take a classic story and classic themes and make them new again. Melanie Dickerson put "Belle" in Medieval England  to again find the loving man behind the scarred "beast".

Annabel's family were once wealthy merchants, but her father's death and the loss of their ships have left them poor and unable to pay their dues to the lord. Unfortunately, they haven't lost the laziness and assumption of class that accompanies children of money. When they are held responsible for three years of back dues to the lord, one child is required to be in the lord's service for three years. Annabel agrees to go despite her fear of the new lord, who seems fair but gruff at the same time. 

In her time in the lord's service, she begins to realize there is more to the lord than meets the eye. When he asks her to read the Bible to him, she is thoroughly excited to have the opportunity to read the Bible. While the opportunity to read the Bible is overwhelming enough, Annabel didn't expect to also find herself developing feelings for the lord. She can't imagine him feeling the same way, but unbeknownst to her, he struggles with the same desire for Annabel. But Annabel's beauty and demeanor have not only caught the eye of the proper lord. She has also caught the eye of the bailiff who isn't nearly as proper as the law. When he tries to take his liberties with Annabel, she finds herself in a situation that threatens the very people she loves, and she is willing to make any sacrifice to protect them. But will it work?

I really liked this medieval Beauty and the Beast story! It was properly "aged" but still readable and accessible for young readers, and the characterization of Belle and the beast was really wonderful. My biggest observation has to do with the frequent injection of religion into the story. While I accept the amount of religion that would be involved in life during this time, it seemed to occasionally slip into a preachy voice rather than a historically accurate one. I didn't really need the excess of religious undertones, but I am particular about religion in my fiction. I am sure there are many people out there who wouldn't mind this angle on the story. The religion wasn't always overwhelming, but sometimes I found myself wanting to say to the author, "Yes. We get it! You were a missionary! If you want to write spiritual novels, go for it, but stop making Beauty and the Beast anything other than a lovely, romantic story!" Again, I am sure I am not the only one who felt this way, but I am also sure there are many people out there who would enjoy this angle. But if you are comfortable with a lot of religion in your YA fiction, I would choose another book.

Overall, I really enjoyed the story. It was very readable and fun. I found myself content because I know the story and know how it ends, but also excited with the small twists Dickerson made to the story. You will find yourself screaming, "Kiss her, you idiot! She loves you too!" This would appeal to a strong junior high student through a high school student. It reminds me of the historical romances I used to steal from my mother when I was young, but it is perfectly clean and appropriate for the age group. And honeslty, who doesn't need a little love and romance in their lives, right?!

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