Book Review: Bestial by Arielle K. Harris

BestialBestial by Arielle K. Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just after Valentine’s Day, I am reviewing this tale of troubled love. Warning: contains spoilers.

As the mother of a teenage daughter, I have been aware of a cultural undercurrent around fairy tales for many years. Is Beauty and the Beast about domestic violence? Is Twilight about creepy stalker control freak boyfriends that suck the life out of girls? Are they all too much about the value of women’s physical beauty and traditional heteronormative gender roles?

Although I never banned any of these stories from our home, I do consider the original story of Beauty and the Beast to be problematic, so I was interested to see what would come of reversing the genders of the two main protagonists and following their journey beyond “happily ever after.” Would I like it better that way? Would it be better for women?

The answer here was surprisingly, yes and no. Yes because the girl/beast Yvaine becomes the real protagonist of the story and its most compelling character. After the retelling of the original plot, Yvaine goes on a quest, makes friends, solves riddles, confronts magical creatures, and comes into her own as a kick-ass fighter. The writing in this story is especially lovely too, and it carries the reader along, making this a smooth, if not simple, read.

But the answer is also No, because in spite of the action, I found it a little too subtle and meandering. I enjoyed both halves of the book but they didn’t seem to have enough to do with each other to keep them in the same novel. It starts out as the story of Beau and Desire and their family, and one by one all of these characters fall away, their motivations inexplicable. The Beau of the second half was virtually unrecognizable to me as the Beau of the first half. Perhaps the loss of his twin brother played some role in his loss of character? The Devil is mentioned, and given the calamities that befall this family, his dark power may have a greater hand in events than is explicitly described. Or not. That’s the problem: I’m not sure.

There were other red herrings too, in addition to Beau’s unexpected and confusing behavior. Fitcher? The Devil? The mouse? The riddles? The mundane reason for Yvaine’s initial enchantment as told from the witch’s point of view? All were enjoyable to read but a bit of a grab bag. There was also a surprising amount of hacking and chopping and killing with axes. This is definitely a Grimm fairly tale, not a Disney one, and it has the feel of something out of another time, or a dream.

At first, I felt it ended too abruptly, and found this frustrating. But days later, the story continued to nag at me and stay with me. I wondered what Yvaine, more powerful alone than she ever was with Beau, would do next. I imagined her taking flight. I was reminded of Twilight at its best, in which the heroine also comes into her own power with a startling transformation. This isn’t your mother’s, or your daughter’s fairy tale, but it is one of the most thought-provoking I’ve read in the genre.

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: Bestial by Arielle K. Harris”

  1. I’ve often thought about the “powerlessness” of women in the fairytales of my youth, but I’ve got to say that the stuff coming out of Disney now is really about women’s empowerment. Frozen, Moana, great role models for the next group of girls. It’s changing, albeit slowly, and by the time our girls have girls maybe the inequality will be a distant memory.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I like Disney now. Even 10-15 years ago when my daughter was small and liked princesses like Ariel and Mulan I wasn’t that bothered by it.My favorite princess was Aurora/Sleeping Beauty and I still love to sleep! I think that one of the most interesting and less talked about effects of the new empowered female protagonists of children’s stories is their effect on boys. I think boys now are much more accepting of stories with girl heroes. I remember my mother coming home from a class on writing for children being told that you should write a story with a boy main character because girls would read that, but boys wouldn’t read a story with a girl main character. That may have been good advice back then, but I’m glad it’s no longer true.

      Liked by 1 person

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