Friday, July 26, 2013

Book Review: Of Beast And Beauty & Interview With Stacey Jay

Of Beast and BeautyAuthor: Stacey Jay
Publication Date: July 23, 2013
Publisher: Delacorte Press

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.

She sighs. “Oh, I don’t know. Lots of things. If the dome is damaged by a storm and the roses have to repair it, that takes a lot strength. If blight touches the harvest, or children are born sick, or…any number of things.” She shrugs and lifts a hand in the air. “Any weakness in our city or our people. Correcting these things can make the roses grow hungry again faster.”

“Our covenant has remained strong for almost eight hundred years. The roses take care of us. Surely, if the tainted were something to be afraid of, the roses would use magic to correct their mutation.”

Now I understand. I know the real reason I’m locked away from my people. “I may be tainted, but I’m not a fool,” I whisper into the too-tranquil air.

Tonight I will remember the fear in her eyes and let it fill my mouth with a taste as sweet as her rose-and-sugar breath.

Isra has been blind for most of her life, at least since she was four years old. Her sole purpose has always been to be a human sacrifice for her people and the land of Yuan. She spends much of her time with the magical roses in the domed city, and the power that lies within them. With just one prick from the roses she is given her sight back for a short period in time. The roses feed off the blood of royals…the queen, to be exact. On a day, much like any other, while Isra is wondering amongst the dark roses, she runs into a Monstrous. Gem, a mutant beast, who lives outside the dome and is the race of monster that she has been trained to fear her entire life. He is taken prisoner and Isra is looked away again in her tower. She must see Gem again because she needs his help. She needs his help to free her people and herself from a long dreaded curse.

The story alternates between the viewpoints of Gem, Isra and at times, Bo. Bo is the royal advisor’s son and will soon be the husband to Isra and future king to the people of Yuan. Isra was at first odd to me just because of her tendencies and the way she seemed set apart from the world around her. As she journeys off with Gem, and I will let you find out why, she learns a lot about herself and her purpose for still being kept alive. She also learns that the ones you trust the most are often times the one that will betray you the fastest. Isra reminds me of a delicate piece of porcelain at first the way she is locked in a tower and treated as a little china doll. When she was with Gem she became a completely new person, and I must say I liked that Isra a lot better.

Gem was definitely The Beast. He had such a rough exterior, but underneath there was a teddy bear heart. I picked up on small details that fit the original story of Beauty and the Beast, and I must say that Gem fit the best. He endured so much to save his race of people, and then to save and care for Isra. Their love and their connection was much like that of Beauty and her Beast’s! Gem could be rough and crude with Isra at times, but at times I must say that I felt like she deserved it. Isra could be na├»ve sometimes, and refused to see the cruelness of her closest confidantes and people of the city.

Bo was a character that at first I thought I might like. I enjoyed whenever the chapters belonged to him, and I honestly thought that he and Isra might actually have a successful marriage. Without spoiling anything, there is one scene in particular that made me cringe with hatred for Bo and all he stands for.

I think the roses are meant to be symbols in this story. And what better object could be a symbol for something? The rose has many meanings and has been talked about in literature by some of the greatest, including Will Shakespeare. There is a dark magic behind the roses of this book, and I was intrigued to find out as much as I could about them. This is what makes literature so beautiful. An author can take something as beautiful and as delicate as a rose and can then give it life-altering powers. You must suspend your disbelief for this story!

***A copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Delacorte Press in exchange for my honest review***

 Stacey Jay :)
Me: What was your favorite scene in OF BEAST AND BEAUTY to write?
SJ: Strangely, it was a quiet scene, when Gem tells Isra one of his people's legends about the summer star. There is just something special and intimate about that scene, and it is definitely a turning point for Isra and Gem's relationship.
Me: Tell us more about your thought process for developing Isra's character.
SJ: I knew from the beginning that I wanted Isra to undergo a major transformation from the somewhat spoiled, sheltered girl she is at the beginning of the book, to the leader she becomes at the end. I also knew that I wanted her to have a physical disability that kept her from realizing some of the darker truths about her society. I spent a lot of time working on Isra's backstory--her childhood and upbringing--so I started off with a pretty good idea of who she was and where she was going.
What I didn't know until I was halfway through drafting the book, however, was the truth about how she lost her eyesight. It was one of those strange, book-in-process things where I discovered the truth right along with Isra. But once I had that "ah-ha" moment, I went back to revise the manuscript with the new development in mind and discovered the clues were already there. My subconscious had apparently been trying to communicate the truth to my writing mind since the beginning of the novel. Eerie stuff.
Me: Of all the books you have written so far, which one has been your favorite to write and why?
SJ: My favorite to write would probably be "Dead on the Delta," the first in my adult urban fantasy series. It was just pure, escapist fun, and an interesting new challenge since I'd never written that sort of mystery before.
But my favorite end product is absolutely "Of Beast and Beauty." "Of Beast and Beauty" wasn't always an easy book to write--there were a lot of sad, painful scenes--but the end product is a book that comes from a deep, true place and is, in my opinion, the best thing I've ever written.
Me: What is the most difficult thing about writing retellings? Are there lines you are sure not to cross? Or certain plot points that you feel should never be left out?
SJ: I consider "Of Beast and Beauty" my first retelling ("Juliet Immortal" and "Romeo Redeemed" were completely new stories using familiar literary characters), so I'm not sure I'm an authority on them just yet. With "Of Beast and Beauty" I knew I wanted to include all the key components of the familiar fairy tale, because that's part of the fun of a retelling, but I also wanted to use characters and symbols in new and unexpected ways (which is also part of the fun).
I think you have to walk the line between the two, especially with a story as familiar as Beauty and the Beast. You want to make sure the story is recognizable as a retelling, but you also want to show that you have new life to breath into an old tale. Otherwise, there's no point in revisiting a story.
Me: What is your favorite inspirational quote?

SJ: “Life was meant to be lived, and curiosity must be kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

Thank you for being with us today, Stacey!


  1. OOh nice review!! Got this one myself, but had to buy it! Read some good early reviews so I have high hopes for enjoying this one too! Glad to hear it was worthy of 5 cupcakes!!

  2. Great review! I've been wanting to read this one myself!

    I adore your blog BTW! It's so cute!

    Thanks for stopping by and following! Following back via GFC ;)