Author: Stacey Jay
Release Date: July 23, 2013 (hardcover)
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Source: ARC provided by publisher
Overall: 4.5 Stars
In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret...
In the domed city of Yuan, the blind Princess Isra, a Smooth Skin, is raised to be a human sacrifice whose death will ensure her city’s vitality. In the desert outside Yuan, Gem, a mutant beast, fights to save his people, the Monstrous, from starvation. Neither dreams that together, they could return balance to both their worlds.
Isra wants to help the city’s Banished people, second-class citizens despised for possessing Monstrous traits. But after she enlists the aid of her prisoner, Gem, who has been captured while trying to steal Yuan’s enchanted roses, she begins to care for him, and to question everything she has been brought up to believe.
As secrets are revealed and Isra’s sight, which vanished during her childhood, returned, Isra will have to choose between duty to her people and the beast she has come to love.
I've loved reading Stacey Jay's YA novels for years now, so when I first heard about Of Beast and Beauty, I instantly added it to my must-read list. Stacey Jay has taken the essence of Beauty and the Beast and given it such a unique twist that the novel is at once both familiar and unfamiliar. The world of the Smooth Skins and Monstrous is simultaneously dream and nightmare, jarringly beautiful and ugly, fragile yet somehow strong at its core.
Isra is princess of the domed city of Yuan, one of the last cities still standing that hasn't been destroyed by the Monstrous tribes who live in the harsh conditions outside. Blind and living in darkness, Isra has known all her life that she will one day be a human sacrifice in order to ensure the continued survival of her people. Gem is a Monstrous warrior who's on a dangerous mission to steal the enchanted roses in the royal garden, believing they could save his starving tribe. But when Gem is captured by the guards, he has no choice but to pretend to help Isra if he ever wishes to be free again. As Isra and Gem work together, they begin to learn that everything they thought to be true was all built on secrets and lies.
The star-crossed romance in Of Beast and Beauty is very believable. It definitely wasn't love at first sight, but rather, a drawn out affair of two enemies realizing that despite appearances, neither is as awful as their people have always been led to believe. Isra has compassion for others with Monstrous traits, and Gem is no unintelligent beast. The Smooth Skins only value traditional skin-deep beauty, ironically becoming the true monsters of the tale with their selfish ways and how they cruelly treat anyone who is less than perfection. Isra and Gem's friendship and eventual love for each other is a chance for a new beginning, to break hundreds of years of prejudice and bring hope to their dying world.
A boldly imaginative retelling of a classic fairy tale, Of Beast and Beauty is Stacey Jay's best written book yet. Its combination of fantasy, science fiction, and magic is completely refreshing, immediately casting a mesmerizing spell that holds readers long after the novel is finished.
Thanks so much to Random House Canada for providing this review copy!