Once upon a time, in the hidden heart of France, a handsome young prince lived in a beautiful castle. Although he had everything his heart desired, the prince was selfish and unkind.
The story of Beauty and the Beast is truly a tale as old as time.
It has been told over and over and over again in all sorts of forms, all sorts of styles.
It has been set in New York with the “Beauty” turning into a detective’s assistant and the “Beast” being played by Ron Perlman…or anything else that can be thought of.
Even well-known tales such as Phantom of the Opera or The Hunchback of Notre Dame share similarities to the much older tale of Beauty and the Beast.
The retellings of the classic fairy tales are what keeps them relevant, and I love so many retellings (in case you feel like asking, my favorite Beauty/Beast type retelling is Robin McKinley’s Chalice).
And Beauty and the Beast is my favorite fairy tale.
Are there some problems with the fairytale? Oh yes. but I still am a sucker for the original story and every facet that it can be told in.
Well, almost every facet, it would seem.
I picked up a copy of Lisa Jensen’s BEAST: A Tale of Love and Revenge a couple months ago.
It was very obviously a Beauty and the Beast retelling, and it appeared to be a Young Adult read, so I was very much excited to see what these pages held and re-dive into a story I figured would be an instant love for me.
But first, the details:
Just the Facts Ma’am:
Author: Lisa Jensen
Page Count: 352
Year of Publication: 2018
Publisher: Candlewick Press
“They say Château Beaumont is cursed. But servant-girl Lucie can’t believe such foolishness about handsome Jean-Loup Christian Henri LeNoir, Chevalier de Beaumont, master of the estate. But when the chevalier’s cruelty is revealed, Lucie vows to see him suffer. A wise woman grants her wish, with a spell that transforms Jean-Loup into monstrous-looking Beast, reflecting the monster he is inside. But Beast is nothing like the Chevalier. Jean-Loup would never patiently tend his roses; Jean-Loup would never attempt poetry; Jean-Loup would never express remorse for the wrong done to Lucie. Gradually, Lucie realizes that Beast is an entirely different creature from the handsome chevalier, with a heart more human than Jean-Loup’s ever was. Lucie dares to hope that noble Beast has permanently replaced the cruel Jean-Loup — until an innocent beauty arrives at Beast’s château with the power to break the spell.”
Warning: This review will be spreading spoilers all over the place. Also, this is a trigger warning for rape.
In the first few chapters, we meet Lucie. She’s a mary sue. We’re just going to get that out of the way. and we meet Jean-Loup, he’s an absolute disgrace of a human being.
There is absolutely nothing to like about either of these characters.
Lucie is about as detailed and intricate as a plain white piece of paper, and Jean-Loup is pretty much the epitome of every wretched thing a man can be: narcissistic? check. spoiled noble? check. a sexist womanizer who sleeps with anything in a skirt? check.
I really could go on.
And before the fourth chapter, Lucie falls victim to Jean-Loup when he (pretty brutally) rapes her.
I saw it coming, but when it fell across the page, I literally had a moment where I had to put down the book and think, “Jensen just DID THAT.”
It’s pretty hard to set up a romance when one of the first interactions your leading characters have is when the male party completely destroys the dignity and freedom of your female party – you just can’t come back from that.
It leaves a whole bad taste in your mouth as the book progresses.
But, apparently, Jensen decided to DO that.
Long story short, Lucie gets pregnant, ends up deciding to kill herself, doesn’t, instead meets a wise woman who helps magic her baby into…just not existing??? (if you are going to tackle abortion, tackle it. you tackled rape, Jensen, yet you skirted this one).
Eventually, the wise woman comes to Jean-Loup in the form of a beautiful woman and ends up cursing him for him being a despicable human being. Lucie, who decided to go and warn the ‘beautiful woman’ about Jean-Loup, ends up witnessing his transformation into Beast, and is given the choice by the wise woman/enchantress to receive a wish, and Lucie wishes to witness Jean-Loup suffer.
So she’s turned into a magical candlestick.
Somehow, being a magical candlestick heals Lucie of all the pain she has felt as a human and she’s completely at peace now.
Meanwhile, Jean-Loup suffers…for a little while.
You see, eventually, Jean-Loup…stops being Jean-Loup.
In this retelling, there is no magical, singing furniture servants or weird dog-like creatures (Tadums, from the 2014 French movie).
There is only Candlestick-Lucie and Beast.
Beast is far removed from Jean-Loup, to the point where he doesn’t even remember that he is Jean-Loup. In fact, as Beast and Candlestick-Lucie bond (she can’t talk, but she can communicate with him through telepathic sharing of her thoughts), she tells him stories of Jean-Loup and Beast is absolutely repulsed.
Things are going well – Beast grows roses and reads, Candlestick-Lucie is visited by the ghost of Jean-Loup’s mother, who begs the magical silver candlestick to save her son, ya know, as ya do.
But then, she arrives.
Of course the spell can only be broken by a beautiful girl learning to love a beast, and eventually, Rose comes into the picture.
Aside from being completely good…Rose is also a Mary Sue. We can just safely assume at this point that every single character was an awful archetype of the role they played.
Lucie hates the third member of her and Beast’s happy little home, but Beast adores the girl, adores her company…and, well. we know the story.
I decided to not finish this book. I was one-third done and skimmed the rest so I know what happened. At that point, I felt as if I was wasting my time reading a book I was doing nothing but loathing.
Basically: Jean-Loup returns since Rose breaks the curse. He’s awful (no duh) still. Lucie also returns to her human form. Lucie learns from the wise woman/enchantress that Jean-Loup actually IS the enchanted form…Beast is the true form. Beast was enchanted by his now-dead mother to looking human in order to have him be accepted by his father, but the magic came at the price; Jean-Loup looked human but was far more monstrous than the Beast he was born to look like.
Eventually, somehow, Lucie and the enchantress return Beast into his true, beastly form.
Rose rules the chateau in Jean-Loup’s place.
Lucie and Beast run off and live in a tiny cottage in the woods all by themselves.
According to the author, this retelling was written to satisfy the generations of women and girls who decided the beast was far better than the prince, and the concept…the concept is good.
It’s just the execution that went a little haywire.
For example…rape and abortion are big, significant things that this book handled like flicking a fly off the page.
The way Jean-Loup treated Lucie was, truly, awful.
The fact that Lucie ended up with Beast despite all that puzzles me.
Jensen skirted that problem by having Beast be an entirely different person than Jean-Loup, but the looming aspect remains. Lucie was raped. and she decided to live a life with her rapist.
To my knowledge, the aborted baby was never brought up again.
Further, that rape scene, while not completely sexually explicit, was very detailed in very odd ways.
Afterward, Lucie describes herself as feeling like a snail, “leaving a trail of slime behind me.”
Which, frankly…did not need to ever be written.
Aside from the rape scene and abortion content, the simplicity of the written style would lead me to believe that is was a middle-grade book, except the content was just so much over what I would ever see allowed in a middle-grade book.
Is this a badly written YA or a disturbing-content-filled middle grade?
I still don’t know the answer to that question, but I am also passed the point of caring.
This is just not a great book. It’s not a good book. It wasn’t even a fun read. I spent the majority of what I did read constantly rolling my eyes and trying to figure out how Jensen expected us to love the Beast when the man he used to be was completely unlovable.
You see, the charm of the fairy tale is that we don’t actually see what made the Prince so awful. We know that he turned the enchantress away due to her ugliness, and we know that he was selfish and unkind.
But the fairy tale never shows that – it most certainly doesn’t show us the Prince raping Belle and then expecting us to still love the Beast.
The concept was golden: beast stays the beast.
But the execution was awful.
This is a rapist redemption story – and Jensen’s book just pushes the issue (like it did so well with the abortion and the rape itself) under the rug by removing the Beast’s guilt.
And, therefore, it removes the whole point of Beauty and the Beast itself
For, if the beast doesn’t learn to overcome his own vices that led to his downfall, the charm and magic of the tale loses its shine.
I was not paid by any party for this review. Unfortunately, I bought this book with my own funds and decided to do this review and spare any other prospective readers.