Review: A Beauty Among Beasts

I was recently offered an opportunity to read A Beauty Among Beasts by Melanie Gabrell. I went in with no expectations except that it would be an adaptation of "Beauty and the Beast." A Beauty Among Beasts mixes several genres that would work fine on their own, but not necessarily together. It takes place in Nazi Germany and tells the story of Anna Klein, the sensible daughter of a book merchant. Anna has several siblings like Beauty from the original fairy and is the most humble of all of them, requesting a rose as a gift from her father's travels instead of jewels or gowns like her sisters. Unfortunately, that's where most of the fairy tale similarities end.

As a Jewish woman, it made me a little uncomfortable to read a fairy tale set during the Holocaust. Sure, I've read The Diary of Anne Frank like most other Jewish girls my age, but that was about a real person, and I don't much enjoy my reality clashing with my fantasy. Of course, that doesn't apply to everyone. If you're into the darker side of fairy tales, including all of the things that Disney cuts from their Brothers Grimm adaptations, you might enjoy this book. Though the main heroine isn't Jewish, her adopted little sister is, which causes problems for her family further down the line. The book switches perspectives in every chapter. The chapters that take place from the Nazi side were a little harder to read than the rest. It was difficult to tell at first if the main characters were against the Nazis or just indifferent to them, which furthered my discomfort, but apparently, it was dangerous to express any dissent in Germany during that time.

You might be wondering how "Beauty and the Beast" plays into all of this, and the answer is awkwardly. When Anna's father steals a rose from his newest client's garden, the mysterious resident of the castle appears before him and asks for his daughter's hand in...employmenet. Anna agrees out of family obligation, though no real threat is placed on her or her father if she refuses. The next thing she knows, she is working and living in an enchanted castle that seems to rearrange its rooms at will. Leon, her employer, is described as pale and odd-looking for a teenager, but not an outright monster. The magic of the castle extends beyond its walls as well. Anna is free to come and go as she pleases so she can still attend school, but she finds that when she is away from the castle, she can't remember any details about what she saw or experienced there. The castle also only appears to people who are intentionally looking for it.

Since the book alternates between the perspectives of roughly six characters, it's difficult to fully embrace Anna's romance with Leon since they only share a tender moment in a chapter or two. Though not quite as emotionless as K.M. Shea's Beauty and the Beast, any feelings Anna and Leon have for each other are overshadowed by Leon's dark secret as well as the Nazi subplots. In that sense, it feels like the book is trying to be the 2006 movie Pan's Labyrinth, in which a girl escapes to a fairy tale world to get away from the war and destruction surrounding her in the real world, but in this case, the fantasy world of the castle is also darker and more dangerous than it appears once Leon's secret is revealed. Because of this, the book does not have the same beautiful juxtaposition between light and darkness that Pan's Labyrinth had. In fact, I found the romance with Anna's sister Gwen more realistic and rewarding than her own.

If you're in the mood for dark fairy tale horror stories like Magic After Midnight, you might enjoy Melanie Gabrell's A Beauty Among Beasts. However, this is not a light fluffy princess tale, and it's not for the faint of heart either. The story contains a lot of gore, death and an unapologetic look at one of the most horrific parts of human history. I personally did not get much out of this book, but it was certainly an original take on a fairy tale that's been told countless times.


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