Review: Hearts at Dawn

Earlier this month, I was generously offered the opportunity to read a review copy of Hearts at Dawn by Alysa Salzberg. This book is a historical interpretation of "Beauty and the Beast." Though I've read many adaptations of this beloved fairy tale, Hearts at Dawn is an original take that I don't think has ever been done before. The story is so grounded in reality that it feels like something that could have actually happened during the Franco-Prussian War. It offers a unique narrative style that reminds me of Lemony Snicket from A Series of Unfortunate Events with a narrator who almost never appears in the story despite her emotional involvement. This is a great book for history buffs, though it lacks the whimsy and mystery of other "Beauty and the Beast" adaptations.

Hearts at Dawn by Alysa Salzberg

One thing that makes Hearts at Dawn stand out from other versions of "Beauty and the Beast" is that it is told from the perspective of the enchantress, though she is not the main focus of the book. Like Maleficent, the enchantress in this story cursed a baby over a squabble she had with his parents that she came to regret later in life. Her curse caused a young man from New York named Orin Rush to transform into a beast-like creature every night. Orin's mother, who was also magical, cast a protection spell over him that prevented the enchantress from getting close to him and telling him how to break the spell. The enchantress watches over Orin like a guardian angel, doing her best to protect him in what few ways she can without being able to cross his mother's magical barrier. The unique choice of narrator and the fact that this adaptation focuses more on the "beast" than the "beauty" character make it particularly unique.

The main story begins when Orin travels to Paris with his brother, Joseph, to search for a cure for his nightly curse. Having a friendly and outspoken brother at his side makes Orin feel less like the aloof prince from the fairy tale and more like a real person. Their relationship was a major highlight of this book. Orin finds lodgings in Paris next door to a photographer named Claire Turin, who bonds with him over their shared interest in the arts. Like in most love stories, the two are reluctant to admit their feelings for each other due to personal hangups. Claire is afraid that being tied down in marriage would restrict her artistic freedom while Orin believes that no one would be capable of loving him if they saw the monster he turned into at night. Unfortunately for them, everyone else in their lives is determined to bring them together despite their stubbornness.

As original as this story was, there were several elements that impeded the pacing and excitement it could have had. I'm not a fan of historical novels or movies in general because they tend to feel slow (kind of like real life), and this one was no exception. The fact that Orin only turns into a monster at night makes it easy for him to blend into society and live a pretty normal life. Even after Clarie learns his secret, she never has to deal with his monster form directly. The most intense moment of the story is a scene in which Orin rescues Claire's cat, which I found disappointing. I would have preferred to see him rescue Claire, herself, something that happens in so many other versions of "Beauty and the Beast" and could have been especially suspenseful in the war setting. Still, the slow pacing of the book allows the author an opportunity to go into stunning detail about the sights and sounds of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War, something that she is clearly passionate about.

Overall, Hearts at Dawn is a rich historical novel and a wholly unique take on "Beauty and the Beast." The setting and characters are brought to life with an impeccable level of detail, and the book is a sensory experience for anyone interested in French history. If you are looking for something packed with action, adventure, and magic, this is not the book for you. Instead, it is a slow and relaxing love story that takes the time to appreciate every aspect of the world around itself just as an aspiring photographer would. Hearts of Dawn is having a Kindle sale right now, so if it sounds like something that would interest you, be sure to grab it before the price goes back up!


Alysa Salzberg said…
Thank you so much for reading "Hearts at Dawn"! I really appreciate this in-depth and honest review!

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