The Beast’s Heart is a mixed bag of a retelling


Playing Beauty and the Beast straight, then topping it with some flowery prose shouldn’t work for The Beast’s Heart, but it’s not bad, just weird.

There’s an adjustment that needs to be made for reading The Beast’s Heart. Normally, when a book is sold as a retelling, there’s something new or different about it, usually in the setting. However, Leife Shallcross’ debut adds only three things to the original fairytale: subplots for the family of the beauty, Isabeau; the Beast’s perspective for the whole story; and a name and a different curse causation for the Beast (it’s Julien, which is appropriately French).

It also assumes that you know the original fairy tale, or have at least seen Jean Cocteau’s 1946 adaptation. Things have been pared down a tiny bit, but for the most part, everything is as you’ll expect it, just expanded to fit a full novel.

And wow, does Julien have a lot to say. This writer isn’t sure whether or not it’s intentionally done, considering the time period, but the voice Shallcross gives him is particularly poetic, as it’s meant to be from a later perspective, once he’s been freed, and … it’s not particularly easy to read. Yours truly may have even done a double take upon opening the first page, and the book takes its sweet time getting started. Beyond that, though, Shallcross likes to repeat certain phrases more than once, and because they’re already non-standard, they stick out even further. Eventually, a reader may get used to the rhythm of it, but there’s a lot of dragging along.

That’s because the story of Beauty and the Beast is inherently pretty boring. The two main characters are cooped up together for the bulk of the story, and so much of the prose is then dedicated to what Julien thinks about Isabeau. Sure, there are sequences involving the rest of her family by use of a magic mirror, but Julien is still there, watching and commentating.

The ultimate effect, actually, is like reading a fantasy version of You on Netflix. Julien deliberately puts himself in her path. And when she warms up to him, he has all the same confidence issues that Joe does with Beck, except this time, our would-be paramour isn’t even duking it out with anyone else, really. (I miss you, Peach Salinger.)

All of this might make it seem as though this book is terrible. It’s not, but it’s not fantastic, either. Shallcross has some skill, or this wouldn’t have been picked up at all. And it’s well-timed in its release week. Its presumed reason for existing — the perspective switch — shouldn’t engender thoughts of a show about a man who becomes obsessed with a woman and narrates the whole thing, and it makes us wonder about the authorial choices made here.

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Beauty and the Beast is a classic, but it’s a classic because we know Belle better than the Beast, and see the changes wrought in him externally. The Beast’s Heart, by making it internal, slows it down a bit too much for most readers’ tastes.