Series: Beastly #1
I am a beast.
A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog but a horrible new creature who walks upright—a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.
You think I’m talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It’s no deformity, no disease. And I’ll stay this way forever—ruined—unless I can break the spell.
Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and the perfect life. And then, I’ll tell you how I became perfectly . . . beastly.
I’m a huge fan of retold fairy tales, and Alex Flinn is a well-known name in retellings, so I was excited to finally get around to Beastly and check out what “Beauty and the Beast” would look like set in modern-day New York. While the book does have some good moments, I was ultimately disappointed. The story has one main theme it harps on, to the detriment of character development, engaging romance, and so forth. Add awkwardly choppy prose, and there just isn’t much for me to love here.
The prose irritated me from the start, but I decided to stick out the book and see if the plot would redeem it. The book opens in a chat room, with our protagonist the Beast talking to others who have gotten on the bad side of a witch’s transformation. Parts of this are actually clever. The characters here have distinct voices, and the frog is terrible at typing due to his webbed feet. However, chat speak isn’t my thing, and I was happy to see the whole book isn’t written this way. However, the prose of the “regular” narration is still short and choppy, the sort of thing I imagine adults write when they think “I need to write in a simple style that will appeal to teens.” I tried to ignore it, as I’m afraid to say I think most contemporary literature isn’t interested in beautiful prose anyway.
Unfortunately, I never got on board with the story either. There’s having a theme and then there’s repeatedly throwing the theme in reader’s faces. In Beastly, we learn that outer beauty is meaningless; inner beauty counts. Fair enough, but the Beast (before transformation) talks about nothing but outer beauty. I understand. He’s shallow. He’s vain. It’s why he gets cursed. But even someone obsessed with his looks and who judges other people based on their looks must have other interests, right? Maybe sports? Or expensive cheeses? Or networking for future career opportunities? There are a million ways a character can be “a shallow rich kid,” but the Beast only talks about how ugly or beautiful people are. It gets old really fast. And then, of course, the theme continues to come up throughout the novel.
I might have dealt with all of this if the romance were able to save it. After all, romance is a main draw of the fairy tale, right? However, I felt that the pacing was off, and I never became invested in the relationship. The girl who plays Belle in this retelling is nice, but I didn’t feel sparks between her and Beast. And there were not a lot of cute moments of their budding romance. I simply wasn’t interested in any of it.
Flinn does a good job of imagining how it would be possible for “Beauty and the Beast” to occur in modern-day New York, but that isn’t enough for me to buy into the story. With flat characters, rushed romance, and irritating prose, the book just doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t think I’ll be reading anything else by Alex Flinn in the near future.