I love "Beauty and the Beast" in all its variations and have a difficult time passing up retellings of it. When I discovered Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen, I was elated that it was not only a retelling of my favorite fairy tale, but also gender swapped. A girl beast. Family secrets. Magical forest. Creepy castle. Check all my favorite things off right there, and Hellisen does some interesting things with her story.
First: Two thumbs way up for the cover designer on this one. It is beautiful.
Sarah has spent her entire life moving. Her mother seems to be running away from cold. Her father seems desperate to keep her mother happy. Until one night when her mother stops running with them and runs away from them. There's nothing her father can do to stop it. In the days that follow Sarah notices her father turning in more and more, becoming a little wild around the edges. Then he takes her to live with the grandparents she never knew she had and Sarah discovers secrets and lies twisted through her family's history. They are cursed. Cursed to turn into beasts when they fall in love, unless the person they love loves them back. But the curse, born of jealousy and hateful revenge is more twisted than any fairy tale Sarah has ever read. It doubles back on itself and entraps everyone into a hideous future they can't break free from making her realize stories may not always have a happily ever after.
Sarah is so determined. She is determined to help, to fight, to break the curse, to never fall in love, to remain true to herself, to save every member of her family. She tries so hard. She fails at so much of it. Yet she keeps getting back up and trying again and again. Her determination wavers occasionally but it never dies. It drives her. She is the ultimate heroine as a result. Sarah is active in her own story. Many parts of her life are beyond her control, set into motion long before she was born and propelled by forces out of her control. Despite that, she makes her own choices and works within the parameters of the curse to enforce her own will. I loved that so much. I think that it is important to have books where we see a bit of failure but not for lack of trying, and then also get to see how the characters deal with that failure. How they try to make the best of the situation given them. Sarah's relationship with almost every other character in the book is tragic in some way, but she fights for all of them as much as she fights for herself, and it is a beautiful thing to see. I also really enjoyed what Hellisen did with the character who inflicted the curse in the first place. She is a horrible person, but Hellisen gave her depth too. I think the way the situation between her and Sarah resolved was absolutely perfect. I think the conclusion for every person touched by the curse was done exactly right.
Beastkeeper does what the best retellings do and thoroughly twists the tale and adds new dimensions. What Hellisen did with the original story is intriguing and profound. The fear of loving someone beastly, knowing that you are the only thing keeping them from being a hideous shadow of themselves-that's a terrible burden to carry. What might it possibly do to a person? I was throughly impressed with the how intricate Hellisen made the curse, and how completely and utterly it trapped every single person connected to it in the most terrible of ways. I love that she was unafraid to go to the darker places the story required and that it isn't all sunshine, daisies, and happily ever after in the end. There is tragedy. There is uncertainty. But there's also hope.
I loved everything about Beastkeeper and highly recommend it.
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Henry Holt and Co., via NetGalley. Beastkeeper is available for purchase on February 3.