Release Date: July 23, 2013
Publisher: Random House | Delacorte
Pages: 389 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
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Summary (from Goodreads)
In the domed city of Yuan, the blind Princess Isra, a Smooth Skin, is raised to be a human sacrifice whose death will ensure her city’s vitality. In the desert outside Yuan, Gem, a mutant beast, fights to save his people, the Monstrous, from starvation. Neither dreams that together, they could return balance to both their worlds.
Isra wants to help the city’s Banished people, second-class citizens despised for possessing Monstrous traits. But after she enlists the aid of her prisoner, Gem, who has been captured while trying to steal Yuan’s enchanted roses, she begins to care for him, and to question everything she has been brought up to believe.
As secrets are revealed and Isra’s sight, which vanished during her childhood, returned, Isra will have to choose between duty to her people and the beast she has come to love.
Thoughts on Of Beast and Beauty
Racquel and Carrie both raved about Of Beast and Beauty, so I decided to grab it in one of the big Book Outlet sales last year. While I don't necessarily seek out fairytale retellings, I generally really enjoy reading them. I love twists on familiar tales! For some reason, however, I wasn't racing to read this book. But I found myself in a bit of a slump a few weeks ago - nothing was grabbing my attention. Randomly, I decided to read a few pages... and the next thing I knew, I'd read almost half the book.
Of Beast and Beauty tells the story of Isra and Gem. Isra is a Smooth Skin living enclosed within the dome that surrounds the city of Yuan. She's royalty - a Princess raised to be a human sacrifice. Her death will bring prosperity to her people. Outside the city, Gem faces starvation and fights for his life. He's a mutant - one of the Monstrous. Isra and Gem are from two very different worlds, and they want to achieve different ends. Isra wants to help the city's Banished people, and Gem wants to save his starving people by stealing Yuan's enchanted roses. When Gem is captured and becomes Isra's prisoner, everything will come to a head. Secrets will be revealed, and a choice between duty and love must be made.
While I had high hopes for Of Beast and Beauty, I didn't expect to love it as much as I did! This was such a fantastic read. As I said, I'd been in a bit of a reading funk when I started it, but this had me hooked almost immediately! The writing, especially in the beginning, is absolutely gorgeous. This was my first experience with Stacey Jay, and I'll absolutely be reading more from her in the future. There is a lyrical quality to her writing that just immediately captured my attention. I can't do it justice, so let me just highlight the opening:
"In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret. The secret was as old as the cracked cobblestone streets of Yuan, as peculiar as the roses that bloom eternally within the domed city's walls, as poisonous as forgotten history and the stories told in its place.
By the time the girl was born, the secret was all but lost. The stories had become scripture, and only the very brave - or very mad - dared to doubt them. The girl was raised on the stories, and never questioned their truth, until the day her mother took her walking beyond the city walls.
In the wilds outside, a voice as fathomless as the ocean spoke to her of a time before the domed cities, before wholes became halves and bargains were made in blood. It told of a terrible choice and even more terrible consequences. It begged her to listen, to live..."
It helped that the book started in such a memorable way because the summary for this book had always thrown me off. Smooth Skins? Monstrous? HUH? Thankfully, it wasn't difficult to imagine the settings and the characters inhabiting it once I was actually reading. Jay brings this world to life! While the city of Yuan and the desert beyond it could have been a little more fleshed out, the characters completely made up for it. All of the characters had so much depth, including the villains. People are complicated, and Jay depicted that perfectly. Just when I was determined to hate someone, they'd have a moment that made me reconsider!
Another bonus? This book has one of my favorite tropes - a hate-to-love romance. I can't get enough of this kind of love story! The plot had me on the edge of my seat, and the pacing was just spot on. It was such a creative retelling - the perfect twist on a story I've always loved. Whether you're a fan of Beauty and the Beast or just interested in fantasy, you can't go wrong with Of Beast and Beauty. It was better than I ever imagined it would be, and I'm so glad I took a chance on it! I just had to look past the beastly summary to see the beauty inside. Ha! I'm sorry, but I had to do it.
“Beauty is wherever you find it, and Beast is there when you need to defend it.”