Book Review: Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay

16113606Of Beast and Beauty
by Stacey Jay
Delacorte Press
July 23, 2013
Hardcover, 391 pages
Source: library loan

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. (Goodreads summary.)

Opening Line

IN the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret.

My Take On It

Stacey Jay’s Of Beast and Beauty is tragic and romantic. It is compelling and lyrical. It is a novel firmly grounded in complex characters and a universe so rich, you’ll crave to see its beauty exist in front of you. This fairy tale retelling of Beauty and the Beast offers a new and refreshing spin on the classic while remaining true to the magic of the original.

In this story, we have the dark and unforgiving world of Yuan, a domed city that exclusively houses Smooth Skins, or humans unmarked by the magic of the land. Outside of Yuan, we have the Desert People; they are distinguished by a combination of orange and gold scales and muscle; they are transformed humans, created to adapt to the harsh conditions of the foreign atmosphere. Still, Desert People are treated as inferior beings. While Smooth Skins call them Monstrous and have left them to perish in a wasted land, Smooth Skins remain protected by safety and provisions. Under the dome, the Smooth Skins have inadvertently tangled in dark magic and have thrived from it for so long. While the Monstrous, alienated and weakened, have diminished in number and have became so full of hate; they have resorted to violence to change the imbalance of their world.

The friction that exists between Smooth Skins and Monstrous has divided the land. Out of this division, a curse has risen. The Smooth Skins suffer more than the Monstrous, but everyone is affected by this unknown curse. Everyone suffers at the hand of someone else – some more than others, but again, everyone is responsible. And to be free from this curse: acceptance, peace, and love must be reached from a pair of individuals, one from each side. Feelings of prejudice and superiority must be lifted. Both Smooth Skins and the Monstrous are guilty of persecution, punishing each other for being different. Both groups are weakened by their arrogance and intolerance – which can only mean one thing, they are more alike than different. They are members of a common race; a race with the ability to think, feel, and communicate. They are imperfect. But for the imperfect, there is room for growth and understanding; it is within their reach to do better and be better. It is within their reach to be accepting and live in peace, and yet, they prefer division by cruelty and violence. These are real-world issues that are relevant to us today. Jay makes you consider human nature – and she asks, aren’t we responsible for our own triumphs and ruin? We create our own curses and fate. There is truth and vision in Jay’s examination, and this message makes her novel even stronger.

Told from three alternating POVs, we have Isra, Gem, and Bo piecing history and their chaotic present together. Their curiosity and interactions will gradually get them the answers they seek:

Isra is the locked away princess turned Queen from Yuan. She is no ordinary Smooth Skin. In addition to being blind, Isra has skin and height mutations. Though she has no love from her council or citizens, Isra is compassionate. She’s uncertain and insecure. She’s lonely and broken, but she’s smarter than most people care to know. Though she has her scars and misjudgments, Isra is open to change and possibility. She is fueled by the mistakes of her people, and eventually, she hopes to reform her world.

Gem is a Desert Man. He is a quick learner, a hard-worker, strong, stubborn, and daring. He is honest, passionate, fearless, and determined. He hopes to save his people by stealing the source of Yuan’s vitality. After getting caught on the job, he becomes prisoner of Yuan. He has his misconceptions of the Smooth Skins, but getting close to Isra will make him question what he knows.

Bo is a perfect example of the Yuan people. He upholds all of Yuan’s practices and principles without question. He’s a soldier, and the son of Isra’s most trusted advisor. He has an interest in Isra. Though he’s determined to marry Isra, love her, and give her more freedom than she has, his jealousy and erratic behavior erases the charm of this dream. Though at times his conduct is questionable, there’s no denying that Bo has  some good qualities within.
Needless to say, the characters bring out the magic in this story. I was engrossed in every bit of their individual narration. Though the story does move at a gradual pace and there is little action from the plot, the characters breathe emotion and intelligence into this story – making me appreciate everything it has to offer.

And the romance between Isra and Gem? Simply, divine! It was careful and delicate, but at the same time, it was fierce and fitting. A beauty and a beast make a connection, but the real question is, who is playing the part of beauty? And who is playing beast?

Yes, Stacey Jay has written a thoughtful and intricate version of the tale you know so very well. This story has captured my heart, and without revealing anything else, I will say, my only wish is that it can do the same for you.