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Twenty years after basing her first novel, Beauty, on the tale of Beauty and the Beast, Newbery-winning author McKinley revisited the same fairy tale in this remarkable book. At the same time this book expresses her love of roses, her wistfulness in leaving behind one home and one country for another, and some of loves profoundest mysteries, which she had experienced in her own recent marriage.
Beauty, along with her widowed father and her sisters Lionheart and Jeweltongue, have relocated from a big mansion in the city to a small cottage in the country, after financial and social disasters left them humiliated and disillusioned. How they came to inherit the little house is a mystery to them, but they make the most of it. Lionheart dresses as a young man and finds employment in a rich squires stables. Jeweltongue discovers her true calling as a seamstress. And Beauty brings the cottages garden, especially its roses, to life. This is remarkable because, in Beautys world, only a magician can grow roses. And no magician has dared to approach the village of Longchance for many years. There is even talk of a curse…
This curse comes back to Beautys mind when her father returns from a journey, shaken by an encounter with a horrible beast. The old man was only allowed to live when the Beast heard about Beauty and her roses. Now, as the price of her fathers life, Beauty must go to the Beasts mysterious, magic-filled palace and tend the seemingly lifeless roses in his glasshouse.
Beauty grows to sympathize with the Beast more and more, while she adds her loving touch to the magic that helps the roses grow. Its no wonder he keeps asking her to marry him, though she keeps refusing to do so. When the roses finally bloom again, and Beauty thinks she has done what she was brought there to do, she asks leave to go home to her father and sisters. Thats when the Beast says she is entirely free to go…only, if she does not return, he will die without her.
Clearly, this most romantic of fairy tales can stand up to any number of retellings, particularly if they are as rich and rose-scented as this one. Even though it is a tale most of us know well, and have heard many times, McKinleys retelling is not without its surprises. The magical mystery behind it all gives the book a menacing undertone, and gardening enthusiasts will be captivated by the account of Beauty and her roses. The talking salamander and his gift are also an interesting touch. With material suitable for all ages, I think teens and adults will especially enjoy this new version of an old, old childrens story.