The Beast’s Heart is a sweet, lyrical, and thoughtful retelling of Beauty and the Beast, with the twist of being told from the Beast’s perspective rather than Beauty’s. I borrowed it almost a year ago from Judith, so it’s high time I got round to reading and reviewing it!
Book: The Beast’s Heart by Leife Shallcross
Read before: No
Ownership: Physical ARC borrowed from a friend. All opinions my own.
I’ve not seen a retelling of Beauty and the Beast before where we only get the Beast’s point of view on things – A Curse So Dark and Lonely gave us his viewpoint, but also that of his Beauty, Harper. Here, we begin with the Beast well before the merchant, Beauty’s father, even arrives, which gives us a great insight into his character, and his frustrations with his form. This Beast has a life, albeit a miserable one, outside of his fairytale. This did lead to Isabeau being slightly inscrutable, as any love interest is in a single-viewpoint story, and I was worried at first that she’d be something of a manic-pixie-dream-girl; someone who was there as a catalyst to fix a broken man, not as a well-formed character in her own right. But the background that emerges of her relationship with her family, and her frankness with the Beast, allow for more character development, and though she’s definitely not as fleshed-out as she could have been with a dual narrative, for example, she feels well-written.
The writing is lush and gorgeous, and the story is very much a slow-burn, so I can understand the reviewers who have said that the pace didn’t work for them. In places, the beautiful language felt a little too ornate and ostentatious, but where the writer relaxes into the story, it flows really well. I loved that the book is filled with quiet moments, and that Beauty and the Beast have the chance to forge a quiet routine together, as this makes their relationship feel much more honest and supportive. Beauty, here, isn’t a captive, and she can leave whenever she likes, so it makes sense that she gets joy from the castle, and comes to enjoy the Beast’s company. It’s a gentle descent into friendship, then love, rather than an infatuation, and that’s what a good Beauty and the Beast retelling has to have for me. It’s about falling in love with a mind, not a body, and you do need to spend time doing the small things in life in order to do that.
There’s an extended metaphor throughout the book about seasons – the Beast’s forest has been held perpetually in winter, to illustrate his frozen heart, and Isabeau’s coming first heralds the thawing of spring, and then the return to a natural course of seasons (as really, perpetual spring would be pretty unnatural too). Again, this is something that is also used in A Curse So Dark And Lonely, but I found that it was worked in differently enough here as to feel fresh. The metaphor could easily become heavy-handed, but manages to skirt that and instead gives a very magical feel. There’s quiet magic through the book, with the invisible servants of the castle gently but persistently present. I would have liked to see more about how the castle changed depending on the state of mind of the Beast – that seemed really interesting, and I liked the hints we got!
One thing that didn’t really click for me was the nature of the curse. It’s spelled out why the Beast was cursed, but it didn’t seem like a great reason to me? He didn’t seem like a bad person; rather, he was trying to be entirely unlike the worst person he knew, his father, and he got cursed anyway. It begs the question as to why the Fairy didn’t curse his father and nip the whole thing in the bud…
Overall, this is a gentle and quiet retelling that centres the Beast really well, and offers a fresh perspective on a tale that’s had more retellings than I’ve had hot dinners. It’s a really optimistic and beautiful addition to the Beauty and the Beast lover’s library. Four out of five cats.