Review: Beasts of Beauty

I had no idea what I was in for when I agreed to read an ARC of Beasts of Beauty by Celeste Baxendell, the third book in the Bewitching Fairy Tales series. This book really packs a punch! I had read the first book in this series, Stalks of Gold, but I don't remember it being quite as heartwrenching as this one. It is not a light read. If you attempt to climb this mountain of a book, you must be prepared to have your heart ripped out and squeezed into pieces. However, the story is amazing and well worth it if you are in the right mood. It is a gender-bent retelling of "Beauty and the Beast" and "Little Red Riding Hood" and tells both in an innovative way. I loved and hated it at the same time for the way it manipulated my emotions.

Beasts of Beauty by Celeste Baxendell

In this gender-bent retelling of "Beauty and the Beast" and "Little Red Riding Hood," Chasen takes on the roles of both Beauty and Red Riding Hood. When his sister tells him about a ferocious beast living in an enchanted forest, he attempts to hunt it to no avail. Then, a horrible villain, known only as The Scholar, kidnaps Chasen's entire family in exchange for the beast. Now more determined than ever, he dons an enchanted red cloak that was given to his family for protection and tries again. This time, he discovers that the beast is guarding the last of the fairies that their kingdom's enemies tried to wipe out in an enchanted castle, and he is held captive for discovering their secret. I love that this story managed to incorporate fairies even though neither of the fairy tales it was based on has any. There are far too few fairy tales that actually contain fairies. My favorite character in the book was Ilima, the outspoken faery princess who was best friends with the "beast," Aerona.

Though I had only read the first book in the Bewitching Fairy Tales, I was able to infer from the context of Beasts of Beauty that the second book in the series was a retelling of "Snow White" because Chasen is revealed early on to be the huntsman who spared Snow White's life before this book began. This book follows the tradition that most modern fairy tale series incorporate in which minor characters from other books becoming the protagonists in future adaptations. We already know a lot about Chasen from his actions in the "Snow White" story. He is a huntsman who is willing to follow an order as terrible as killing an innocent girl, but he has a strong enough conscience to resist committing such atrocities when faced with them directly. Though he should have learned from his past mistake, he makes a similar mistake in this book, barring any room for him to grow until the end. The mistake he makes here is even more heartwrenching and practically unforgivable.

Despite all of its merits, Chasen is by far the most frustrating character in this book. It took him far longer than it should have to learn that the young woman named Aerona who roamed the castle at night was actually the beast he was sent to hunt. Once he learns her story and begins to fall for her, he betrays her in the worst way possible and spends the final act of the book attempting to atone for his grave misdeed. The last few chapters of this book are extremely dark. They go places that most fairy tale adaptations would never dare attempt, and yet, it works because the story is so lengthy that it has plenty of time to create lighter moments with Ilima and Chasen's younger sister, Katja, to balance it out. Still, it is difficult to be prepared for the devastating blows that this book delivers. It is an incredibly sad story and never dances around that fact.

Beasts of Beauty is the darkest version of either "Beauty and the Beast" or "Little Red Riding Hood" that I have ever read. The gender-bending of both makes it very much its own unique story. It did not put me in a good mood, and the length made it difficult for me to get through in the amount of time I wanted. Yet, the writing and worldbuilding were top-notch and made the whole experience worthwhile in the end. I would recommend this book if you are in a macabre mood and have a lot of free time on your hands. It is not for the faint of heart.

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