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The Beast's Heart
by Leife Shallcross
ACE Books; $15; 405 pp
Published: February 2019

Exquisite like crystal lit by candlelight, Shallcross’ retelling of ”La Belle et le Bete” is just gorgeous. This is not the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, this is the French tale.

A merchant gets lost in a winter storm and spends the night at this eerie abandoned-looking castle surrounded by a huge forest where the cursed Beast resides. The Beast’s invisible servants care for Monsieur de la Noue and before he leaves the next day, the merchant asks for one rose for his youngest daughter, Isabeau.  Of course, the fateful bargain is struck: the rose for his promise that his daughter Isabeau will stay with the Beast for a whole year.

The story is told from the Beast’s point-of-view. We learn of his curse and more importantly, his desperate loneliness. He has no idea how long exactly he’s been cursed to roam the decrepit boundaries of his chateau.  But the arrival of Isabeau changes everything.

Shallcross gives us a straightforward telling of this tender fairytale. There are a few changes…there is no place Isabeau cannot explore; including the attic which houses the undamaged portrait of the real marquis/Beast, Julien.

The Beast has a magic mirror he can use to look upon Isabeau’s family (besides her father, she has two sisters). These views really give him a deep understanding of Isabeau and her family dynamics, and what he has missed for so long: love, purpose and a sense of place. His own childhood was darkened by an abusive indulgent, vicious father after his mother died.

Shallcross’ writing is really lyrical and this is a delightful read, a wonderful filling-out of the classic fairytale. I enjoyed it immensely.  It is not nearly as dark as the French film or even the Disney version, but there is plenty of sadness. Though Isabeau succumbs to tears at the drop of a problem, she still remains steadfast and strong through her dilemma. And the ending is exquisite.

If you love fairy tales this is a real jewel.  ~~ Sue Martin

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