17-year-old Bella, a model, is just out of rehab for anorexia. She flies to Ireland to meet up with her cousin James, a photographer. Bella explains that she’s always felt close to James, not just because he got her into modeling, but because out of all the members of their large family, she and James are the only queer ones. Their photo shoot takes place on the grounds of the crumbling and creepy Blackston estate, a place her cab driver tells her is full of dark magic. While there, Bella and James discover a lavish flower garden and climb the wall to take some pictures in it. The Beast appears and initially tries to capture James, but Bella offers to trade places with him. Bella describes the Beast: “Its face is like a lion, with a lion’s mane, but two huge ram’s horns curl from its head. Its back is hunched like a buffalo’s, but it walks on two feet—hooves, really. Mismatched hooves, one like a Clydsedale and one like a goat.”
Once inside the estate, Bella realizes the interior of the house doesn’t match the outside—it’s gorgeous. She’s tossed into a small, dank room, where she overhears a woman chiding the Beast to remember that Bella is a guest, not a prisoner. She also overhears this woman telling Beast that Bella will need to eat to keep her strength up for what is to come.
Once out of her dungeon-like room, Bella is set up in a lavish bedroom of her own. In the dining room, she learns she only has to think about a food and it will appear in front of her. For someone with the issues Bella has with food, this is frightening. She learns more about the house and about Beast as they grow closer. Despite their appearances, the two have a lot in common and can understand each other in unique ways. At one point Bella says, “I’m not under a curse or anything,” and Beast says, “Aren’t you?” Bella is surprised to find being at Beast’s house is kind of like a strange rehab—one where there are no mirrors and essentially no one else to see her or judge her.
When Bella learns more about how the Beast’s curse works and the terms in which it will be lifted (Beast is free to leave the house when a man give’s her true love’s first kiss), she’s intrigued. The Beast makes it clear that she doesn’t want a kiss or anything else from any man. Bella comes up with a plan—a very surprising and complicated/risky plan—that will break the curse, but is it something she can pull off? Is it even something she should attempt?
The parallels between Beast and Bella being trapped in their bodies in different ways, and their issues with how they perceive themselves and are viewed by others, are interesting. They are both complicated characters—stubborn, determined, sometimes foolish, and brave. Bella thinks about her anorexia, her body, and her recovery a lot. We see in great detail how she felt about her thin body, the issues she still has. She never minces words, so we get a very visceral and at times disturbing look at her thoughts. The twist at the end (Bella’s plan) completely threw me for a loop. The themes of transformation and insides/outsides and identities are taken to the extreme in the final pages. I think there’s a lot of fodder for discussion from this brief novella. What does having a female Beast do to the story? Can we forget Bella is still a captive as time goes on (and what does it mean if we do?)? Are they as similar as it might seem? What do we think of Bella’s risky and surprising plan? Does it change how we view her? Do we like or agree with her choice? I love Rede’s vivid writing and the details she infuses this world with. Readers looking for a unique Beauty and the Beast tale with a lot to think about won’t be disappointed.
Interested in more thoughts on the Beauty and the Beast story? Check out these previous posts on TLT: