Posted by Ana Mardoll at Friday, March 04, 2011 Edit
by Hanna C. Howard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Ephemeral / B003CV7U3Y
I am particularly fond of re-tellings of fairy tales, and despite the frequency with which "Beauty and the Beast" has been retold, it still remains one of my favorites. The writing, characterization, and overall feel in this excerpt is superb and worthy of high praise. The writing style, tone, and setting will instantly suck the reader in, and the careful and attractive retelling of such a favored old tale is the perfect soothing pleasure in a harsh world.
And now, because I loved this excerpt so much, I'm going to make a whole lot of suggestions that may appear like I am ripping it to shreds. I apologize in advance, but please take these suggestions as possible improvements (in my opinion, at least) to an excerpt that I had absolute delight in reader, that I would buy today if available, and - if published - I would love to receive notice so that I could buy it then and there. So, having said that, here are some thoughts:
1. Traditionally, fairy tale sisters have been quite awful. Usually, they are jealous of their attractive, pleasant, educated sisters - and probably rightfully so. Bella is her father's favorite, and nothing sours sibling love more than that. However, this characterization can come off as two-dimensional - Bella is good because she is pretty, and her sisters are bad because they are fat and undisciplined.
I would love to see a little more dimension added (I particularly enjoyed the scene when one sister was worried for their father) - perhaps one of the sisters could be tolerant of Bella, or even sympathetic to her plight (and grateful that she is 'ugly' and escapes the family pressures to marry extra-well). Perhaps some thought could be put into explaining the pain the other sisters have felt, from the fact that their father showers them with gifts, but never with approval. It's something to think about, and a little interaction between Bella and her sisters (where Bella sympathizes with their lack of love, and the sisters sympathize with her marriage concerns) would add a lot of development to the characters and to the story.
2. Although the character of Bella as being a beautiful, misunderstood bookworm is well-established in popular memory, and while fairy tales do get a fair pass on "Mary Sue" characterization, be careful to be as three-dimensional as possible with Bella to attract the largest audience. A character who is always clever, awesome, pretty, skinny (the only one who can fit into her mother's clothes, I noticed), tall, lovely, calm, polite, and long suffering *can* get boring after awhile because they become a cardboard cut-out instead of a human being. So far, everything that has occurred in this excerpt is fine, but it's something to remember going forward. Bella, as beautiful as she is, should have prejudices to overcome, she should occasionally lose her temper and say things that she will legitimately regret later (not in the "that wasn't prudent" sense, but in the "that was uncalled for, I'm sorry" sense).
Something that leaps to mind is Bella's "relief" that the danger they face is financial ruin - this relief is contrasted with her 'selfish' sisters, but financial ruin isn't something to sneer at. Instead of "relief", Bella should still feel concern (if only because she has to know this will push her into marriage sooner), but her concern can still be contrasted with the actions of the others. For that matter, it might be a nice twist to have her request a rose/flower because it's *free* (this could tie into the version where she asks for the first branch that brushes her father's hat off his head, rather than a rose that could be bought at a store) and she feels upset that her father can be thinking about presents at the same moment as financial ruin - that would be an awesome twist on a classic, and to my knowledge it hasn't been done before. "Bella the financially prudent" rather than "Bella the romantic", so to speak.
3. In the same vein as the sisters, the older brother doesn't really need to be a two-dimensional villain auctioning his sister off to the highest bidder. His concerns really are valid - if their father loses his fortune, and if the family isn't equipped to grow/raise their own food, their options quickly become "starve to death" or "prostitution". Bella doesn't seem to realize this, but the reader *will*, and making the brother villainous over this legitimate point feels forced and cruel. In my mind, it would be better for him to be firmly set on this, feeling that he knows better than Bella, and that he's looking out for her, rather than the callousness he is displaying. You could even include a scene where he has a calm talk with Bella about her options, and she understands, but she just can't resign herself to the unhappy life she is facing with these sexist men. Indeed, maybe Bella could go to the ball hoping against hope that she might find a tolerant man with an acceptable fortune to marry her, rather than the suitors her brother is picking for her. That would provide more characterization for both Bella and her brother.
Incidentally, tying back into the character of the father (who is perfectly presented as a careless spend-thrift who shows open favoritism to his pretty daughter and prefers to buy the affections of the rest), Ansel could be trying to move this marriage forward while the father is gone *because* he knows that his father will not make the prudent decision for Bella and the family, but rather the "romantic" decision for his favorite daughter. This would have the delightful effect of contrasting a sympathetic character (Ansel) who has a distasteful (to modern readers) plan (marriage for comfort, rather than companionship) with an unsympathetic character (the father) who has a more modern plan (marriage according to the daughter's wishes). I love the overlay that would create, and the fact that Bella would be torn between her "loving" father (whose affection is superficial) and her brother whose affection is genuine, but a difficult pill to swallow.
Overall, I loved this excerpt. I feel like I've been harsh to it here, but that's only because I would like to see it become even better than it already is - right now, it's a great "Beauty and the Beast" retelling, but I think with a little polish, it could be THE "Beauty and the Beast" retelling.
NOTE: This review is based on a sample excerpt of this book provided through the ABNA contest.
~ Ana Mardoll
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