Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay (2013)
YA Fiction | Romance | Fantasy/Sci-Fi
“In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret…
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.”
pooled ink Review:
Beauty is wherever you find it, and Beast is there when you need to defend it.
I don’t know what anyone else thinks about this book and I don’t really care to scroll through the reviews on Goodreads to find out. Sometimes a book just surprises you and clicks and that’s what happened for me with this book. Sure I thought the description sounded interesting but, I dunno, it just really clicked for me. I know for certain that this book won’t be for everybody but wow, I really loved it. I was just at the library, thought I’d give it a go, and now I need to buy myself a copy when I can so I can add it to my bookshelf.
The story is mostly inspired by the Beauty and the Beast fairytale with a violent touch of Romeo and Juliet. But even with these very famous inspirations Jay takes her book to a realm of imagination all her own. Most of all this book I suppose is a dark romance, but besides that it’s actually a bit of a mix between fantasy and science fiction. This story takes place in the far future when humans leave to find a clean new planet to live on but the new home they find for themselves happens to be a planet alive with magic. And the people were not prepared for magic.
Something I really loved was how Jay began her book and this new world with a creation story. I love creation stories and this one was just as beautiful. Most books don’t bother with that sort of thing but I really admire how this book does and furthermore how it plays at the heart of the entire story from beginning to end. The planet’s story was well written in my opinion. It felt genuine, ancient, possible, and undeniably beautiful. It was a perfect way of opening this particular story and a clever way of providing exposition.
That’s another thing that drew my heart into this book. Everyone has different writing style preferences and that can make or break a book for someone no matter how interesting the plot may be. As for me I adored Jay’s writing. I can’t quite put a finger on it but it just spoke to me. I had no trouble at all hearing the story’s voice, feeling the emotions laid bare, or falling headfirst into Isra and Gem’s world. Her words seemed so wonderfully artistic and articulate, containing both a spark of modernity and a soothing lull of serenity.
The characters. I really do love her characters actually. I flip-flopped on how I felt with some of them (namely Bo) but not because of how she wrote them, more for how they behaved. But that’s a good thing. Real people can bounce all over the place; their personalities don’t fit in just one stationary box. Isra was strong but ignorant, determined but scared, beautiful but stubborn. Gem…do you know what? I think Gem was pretty much the same. Both were raised in very different worlds but as the plot danced forwards all the silly stuff and their ignorance sloughed off leaving only their truest hearts to beat forwards.
Another major character, although not a physical being, is the planet itself. The Dark Heart and the Pure Heart. They are separate but one. We don’t get to experience the Pure Heart nearly as much as we are shoved into the presence of the Dark Heart but even so both pose with a powerful presence. The Dark Heart grows stronger over centuries of blood but the Pure Heart never quite manages to give up hope and love for the humans and the land.
I mentioned before that this planet contains magic and that it contains two opposing forces. The world in this book has a god, one intelligent being that has been torn by man but which is the conscience and life force of the planet. The book has a creation story, remember? I know I already said I liked that aspect but the more I think about it the more I’m surprised by it. Most books, not to mention fantasies and sci-fi stories, completely ignore the beginning of their worlds. It’s not really a big deal because the story just encompasses one isolated major event or period in their world’s history, but yeah, I just think it’s cool how Jay didn’t shy away from the challenge but rather found a way of integrating it into the very fabric of her plot. Religion is a big thing in our world so it’s almost a little weird to pretend it doesn’t exist in our literature…but then again religion can be a touchy subject and I guess no author wants to risk the success of their sales. Whatever. I thought it was cool and I liked it (:
Okay okay back to the story. This story is definitely imbued with the Beauty and the Beast tale but it really does have its own way with it. Throughout the entire book one can’t be quite sure who is the beast and who is the beauty and I really think that that’s the point. Both Isra and Gem are prisoners, both have lost family, both are lonely, both are aggressive and full of hatred, both are beautiful, both contain compassion, tenderness, and love. Jay took the clear-cut qualities from the old fairytale and divided them anew between her main characters. They are monsters to each other, to their selves, until one day they suddenly begin to see something else shimmering beneath the anger and desperation.
This book really managed to pick at and reveal the old nasty habits of humanity. As a romance it highlighted the power of love but it showed more than that. It expressed familial love, platonic love, romantic love, selfishness, ignorance, habits, blindness, misguidance, faith, fear, sacrifice, and division. Maybe Isra wasn’t some raging warrior like so many female protagonists are these days but she still learned how to fight for her people and she was just as strong in spirit. But in many ways it was a partnership. The world didn’t need a man to save it and it didn’t need a woman to save it. It needed both. It needed their love, their equality, their determined partnership in the face of a crumbling world and all their people defiantly growling against them. I know this is just a YA fantasy romance but for whatever reason I seemed to get a lot more than just a good story out of this book. I know it won’t click with everyone but it’s always exciting when you find a book (whatever book/s that may be for you) that does.
So yeah, I guess all in all I’m saying that I really enjoyed it.
Of Beast and Beauty is a beautifully poetic blend of genres all painted together in one dark adventure in which only love can save the world. Magic of fantasy, technology of science fiction, blood of horror, and love of romance all come together to weave a beautiful story and an original spin on a classic fairytale.
Purchase here: Of Beast and Beauty
Meet Stacey Jay!
Stacey Jay is a recovering workaholic (or at least working hard at recovering) with three pen names, two small children, and a passion for playing pretend for a living. She’s been a full time mom-writer since 2005 and can’t think of anything she’d rather be doing. Her former careers include theatre performer, professional dancer, poorly paid C-movie actress, bartender, waiter, math tutor (for real) and yoga instructor.