Title: Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge
Author: Lisa Jensen
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Version: ARC – ebook
Page Count: 352
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Notable Notables: A unique Beauty and the Beast retelling with a main female character who isn’t Belle/Beauty
Recommended Readers: Those with incredibly open minds
Thank you, NetGalley and Candlewick Press, for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Well, this was… Hoo boy.
Let me back up. I’m a sucker for a Beauty and the Beast retelling. No matter how close or how far a retelling gets from the source material, I usually rate it an easy five stars because I am just that easy to please.
However, from its clunky prose to its yikes-worthy content, Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge was a book that was hard to swallow from the start. I almost DNF’d it with a one-star rating, and it’s a rare occasion for me to not finish a book. In the end, I am glad I stuck with it, so I could get a full picture of what Lisa Jensen intended with her story, but I can still only award two stars, mostly out of pity, because I do not like what was accomplished with this retelling and how it reflects on the original.
Lucie is a maid working on Chevalier Jean-Loop’s estate. Jean-Loop is a cruel, childish, selfish master who even seeks to ruin his own family for more riches. In case you can’t guess, Jean-Loop is our Beast character. What you probably didn’t guess is that very early on in the story, Jean-Loop rapes Lucie, to the point where she nearly commits suicide by drowning. A spoiler that may be, but I feel like a reader should be made aware of it before deciding to plunge into this, especially if that’s something they have a low tolerance for.
It’s like Jean-Loop is the prince and Gaston combined into one character, and pushed to an extreme. Don’t get me wrong: rape happens to women and it’s always horrific, but I hate that it was used here at all. Especially after Lucie started to view herself as useless, filthy, and unfit to live after the fact.
Mère Sophie, our enchantress character, saves Lucie and eventually curses Jean-Loop into his beastly form. Lucie decides to stay, wanting to watch Jean-Loop suffer until her vengeance is satisfied, so she is transformed into an enchanted candlestick. Shortly after that, Beast seems to forget everything about being Jean-Loop and what he did to Lucie, and the more traditional Beauty and the Beast tale begins.
This was about where I almost deleted this book off my ebook library. The rape scene was gross enough, but I’m of the strong opinion that if you’re going to do dark stuff like that, you need to commit to it 110 percent. You can’t just turn back and give the committer of the crime memory loss and paint him as being suddenly sweet and gentle because how disgusting is that?
The truth is, Jensen made Beast and Jean-Loop two different characters with two different consciousnesses entirely. That was almost worse, because why even have rape in the first place? There are plenty of terrible things Jean-Loop could’ve done to make Lucie hate him without adding rape to the equation, so I am not giving Jensen a pass on this one. This was nothing short of disappointing. I couldn’t even like the twist that Beast was the real person and that Jean-Loop was the real curse that needed to be broken all along. It turned Jean-Loop from being a horrible villain to a ridiculous one, and it didn’t do any favors for Beast, either; I found him to be terribly boring, and his child-like naiveté was so grating.
Not even Rose, the Beauty character, could save this book. In fact, I hated how self-serving, conniving, and fake-sweet she was. Normally, I love female characters like that–the more Slytherin, the better–but it rang so wrong in this story.
I suppose the reason for the two-star rating is for a few redeemable reasons. I enjoyed Mère Sophie’s character as well as how Lucie as a candlestick was designed to illuminate Jean-Loop’s crimes and misery. However, it got extremely old how she couldn’t move on her own or speak, until she figured out how to do the latter via mental connection. I swear at least 80 percent of this book was description, and that made for an incredibly boring time because the setting stayed largely the same. I suppose some part of me does respect what Jensen tried to do to put a new spin on this tale as old as time, but far too much of it angered, disgusted, bored, or disappointed me.
And, if I’m being really honest, I am pretty dissatisfied with the “Beast stays a Beast and somehow that’s a reward for the female character’s hardships” ending. Liz Braswell’s own Beauty and the Beast retelling did that, and it just didn’t do it for me. Which is weird, because normally I’m into the monster thing. Maybe it’s the complete break from tradition that I don’t like.
I think that this book might have a higher general rating if more people had finished it and seen what the author did with it as a whole, but Jensen gambled way too much on people getting through the rape scene and the hint of romance between rapist and victim that turned a lot of people off; she waited way too long in her narrative to reveal what was actually going on, something that doesn’t work when you have the typical romantic hero do something that extreme to a potential female love interest. Either the reveal needed to happen sooner, making this a much different story, or the rape scene should’ve been nixed for something else.
Of course, this is easy to declare in hindsight as a reader. I’ve heard Jensen’s Captain Hook retelling is much better and more digestible. I’m willing to give her a second chance, but I will do so with a fair amount of trepidation.