Review: Rebel Rose

Rebel Rose is the first book in a new series of official fanfiction called The Queen's Council, which is about the Disney Princesses growing into queens of historically accurate kingdoms that incorporate their fictional movies as a jumping-off point. I generally avoid fanfiction, official or otherwise, but the concept behind this series sounded intriguing. After all, I recently completed a visual novel about Marie Antoinette, so it seemed like a logical next step to read about Belle experiencing the French Revolution as well. I found many similarities between the two stories. Both are about powerful women who are concerned about the wellbeing of their people and the way they are perceived. The Marie Antoinette visual novel in Dress Up! Time Princess is a bit more educational because it doesn't try to blend a magical fairy tale into the darkly realistic setting. Still, I thought Rebel Rose was pretty good overall for what it was trying to do.

Before I go any further, I want to emphasize that this is not a children's book. I know that sounds odd to say about an official Disney Princess novel, but Emma Theriault clearly wrote the book with adults in mind--specifically adults who saw the Disney movie as children when it was released almost 30 years ago. The book does not contain any smut, but it has several scenes of Belle and Lio (Beast) in bed together as Belle tries to soothe Lio's PTSD from his time as the Beast as well as some gruesome imagery of the French Revolution, including a beheading. Keep this in mind if you were thinking about purchasing the book for a daughter or niece. It also requires at least a basic understanding of the French language and history. I studied French for seven years and still had trouble with certain historical terms that are never explained to the reader. The youngest age I would recommend for this book is around 16, but even a high school student might struggle with all the French and political jargon.

Mixing fairy tales with history is a little like trying to mix oil and water. When I started reading the detailed descriptions of Belle living in late 18th century France, I couldn't help but picture a cartoon character walking around in the real world like something out of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The more I read, though, the more Emma Theriault blended the key characters and locations from Beauty and the Beast into the setting until it all came together as one seamless entity. The story revolves around Belle rejecting all of the pomp and circumstance of the French court, something that was never established in the original film. It opens with Belle and the newly transformed Prince Lio traveling to Versailles to discuss their principality's standing with King Louis XVI and Lio's cousin, Bastien. Bastien plays a significant role after he returns to the castle with Belle and Lio. He elects to secede their principality from the French monarchy to avoid getting caught up in the revolution, which makes Lio the king.

Belle adamantly refuses the title of queen or even princess, which could be interpreted as either consistent or inconsistent with her personality, depending upon how you look at it. On the one hand, Belle is always the odd one out, and there's nothing odder than being married to a king without a title. She is also an intellectual with many clever ideas about how to run the kingdom and gain the trust of the people, which seems contradictory to her rejection of power. Even though she doesn't want to be queen, she spends the majority of the book fighting to have more say in Lio's advisory council and trying to reform the laws of Aveyon. The easiest way to do this would be to accept her title, but I suppose the author wanted her to have more of a character arc. I know everything I've described so far sounds nothing like Beauty and the Beast, but the book cleverly weaves threads of the Disney film into the fabric of the story by the time it reaches its thrilling conclusion that kept me on the edge of my seat.

Rebel Rose is a book that I don't think could have existed ten years ago or even five years ago. Its mature themes combined with a childhood favorite for many provide an educational dose of nostalgia for Millennial women that is on trend with the modern era. It is an enjoyable book that never insults the intelligence of its audience. It is clear that Emma Theriault is a true historian and did plenty of research on the French Revolution. Though it takes place over two hundred years ago, it is a progressive story that contains not one, but two queer characters and deepens Belle's relationship with Lio by giving him symptoms of PTSD. If you grew up loving Disney's Beauty and the Beast as a child and want to experience the story through a darker and more realistic lens, this book is for you. However, I would not recommend purchasing it as a present for Disney-loving children or teenagers in your life.


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