I love reading different kinds of books, but it's never been a secret that I have a particular fondness for retellings. I was pretty much obsessed with Disney movies growing up, and Beauty and the Beast has always been my favorite story. So whenever I see something like this pop up, I immediately want to get my hands on it, and this novel was no exception. I was a little wary at first, because I've tried to start one of Jay's other novels, Juliet Immortal, but I ended up putting it aside. I simply could not get into it. However, I needn't have worried. Of Beast and Beauty was a beautiful, amazing and completely awesome story. Upon finishing it, I was in awe. It has unexpectedly become a new favorite of mine. I love it when I am totally blown away by something I didn't expect to adore. This review will definitely be an exercise in forming coherent thoughts. I believe the old cover was very similar to the new one, except instead of showing the model's entire dress, it only shows part of it so it can showcase the city on the bottom half. I didn't like this at first, but now that I've finished the book I definitely like the new one more.
Right after I started I realized that the writing was gorgeous. I didn't want to stop reading it. The words are put together so beautifully. It's the kind of writing talent I think I would kill for. The details Jay uses to describe the Desert and the domed city Yuan are just enough to give the reader a clear image of everything without going overboard and being annoyingly descriptive. The prologue is a touch confusing, but it was also very interesting. It's kind of one of those things you just have to accept for the time being, knowing that the pieces will all come together eventually. Basically, it explains the existence of two things: the Pure Heart and the Dark Heart. It's never stated, but I came to believe that the two were supposedly the essence of the world. It also explains how the Smooth Skins and the Monstrous came about, partly describes the curse of the Dark Heart, and also reveals the only way to break the terrible curse. It's a good introduction to the story, because it helped me to already have a decent idea of why this world was the way it was before I was introduced to the characters.
Jay expertly takes the age old classic fairy tale and makes it her own, and yet the reader can easily see how Of Beast and Beauty parallels the original tale if familiar with it. The general structure of the story remains the same, but as I said, done in a new and exciting way. As the story progressed, I learned more and more about Yuan and its history, but information is dropped here and there. One of the most interesting things to me was the fact that the roses - which in the fairy tale play such an important role - were evil. They - and the Dark Heart - craved blood and sacrifice through the murder of a willing person. Aside from the writing and world, we have the characters. It was different to be reading through the perspective of Isra, seeing as how she is blind. I felt that she worked with her disability quite well, though, and I found her brave and smart. When she becomes the Queen after her father dies, and knows that she must sacrifice herself to the roses like many before her. Admittedly, she does do a lot of cowering and doesn't really stand up for herself. However, after a major turn of events in the middle of the book, she changes. I adored her, and her maid Needle.
Gem was also a great character. I wasn't quite sure how to picture the Monstrous in my mind - at first I thought maybe they resembled the Beast in the fairy tale? But no, they actually have scales, not fur. They are larger than normal humans, with claws and teeth and such. However, Gem is described as still looking fairly human. I felt terrible for him - and Isla - over their struggles with wanting the best for their people, but both unsure about how to make everything better. Obviously, since Isla's people capture Gem in the beginning of the story, the two hate each other almost immediately. And it takes a long time for that to change. Their relationship moved slowly. They started to care for each other in a gradual and very believable way. I wanted very much for them to be together, and I enjoyed their conversations. I love one in particular when Isla is moaning about having Monstrous traits and being "tainted", but later realizes that her soul is not corrupt and that she is good when she is faced with the option of committing a very wicked deed to serve her own purposes and decides against it.
The pacing is great; never did I become bored, but rather I had a very hard time putting it down because I was passionate about these characters. I was rooting for them, and I was emotionally touched more than a few times; I even got a little teary towards the end and in one scene concerning Gem and his son. I also love the fact that the villains were not purely evil people. I mean, they were definitely going about getting what they wanted in a very wrong way. But one of them repents slightly at the end, and other escapes, wailing about how he didn't want everything to end this way. While I understood their motives and everything made sense, that didn't make their actions any less despicable. There is really nothing about this book I can think to criticize. I enjoyed every single aspect of it. The last chapter was happy in a bittersweet way, and the few chapters before it ended the story perfectly. Overall, I cannot recommend this highly enough and it is definitely one you should pick up at some point.