Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales
by Soman Chainani
336pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 6/10
Amazon Rating: 4.3/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.93/5

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Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales is a collection of twelve reimagined fairy tales written by New York Times bestselling author Soman Chainani and illustrated by Julia Iredale. As stated in an interview, the author wanted these stories resonate with both younger readers and adults, and it’s published as being for ages 10+ in the US and adult readers in the UK.

This book contains the following stories:

  • Red Riding Hood
  • Snow White
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • Rapunzel
  • Jack and the Beanstalk
  • Hansel and Gretel
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Bluebeard
  • Cinderella
  • The Little Mermaid
  • Rumpelstiltskin
  • Peter Pan

I read Beasts and Beauty because I love fairy tales and their retellings—and although I know I shouldn’t judge books by such things, also because of the gorgeous cover by illustrator Julia Iredale. But as fitting as that picture is for Little Red Riding Hood’s story, the book as a whole did not leave as much of an impression on me as its jacket design. That is to say, it was perfectly readable with aspects I appreciated, but few of these twelve stories remained memorable after turning the final page.

Though it definitely enhanced the reading experience, I felt similarly about the interior art. There were certainly images I liked and many of them added character to the stories (that disdain and skepticism emanating from Rapunzel when the prince tries to convince her she’d enjoy being his wife!). However, none of the art struck the same beautifully haunting chord for me as the cover or made me want to flip through the pages to revisit it later.

At first, I thought these retellings didn’t especially stand out to me because I’ve read a lot of subverted fairy tales. That could be part of it, but some of these stories are different enough that I no longer believe that’s the main reason. I now think it’s more likely due to my preference for poetic prose and darkly atmospheric tales. Although these stories do contain disturbing elements just like the stories they stem from, they didn’t seem all that dark to me given the straightforward prose and storytelling style that didn’t dwell on the horrific. (Plus, most of these tales do have some sort of happy ending that makes them seem less grim than they may have otherwise.)

These stories all have something in common with the original premise, but just how much they diverge from that varies. The bones of “Rumpelstiltskin” are not changed much at all: it’s still basically the same story with a maiden desperate to discover the name of the one who spins straw into gold for her, but some of the details are different. “Sleeping Beauty” is hardly recognizable as that particular story: it tells of a prince who discovers something has been feasting on his blood in the middle of the night and falls for another boy instead of the princess, and it hardly has anything in common with its namesake although it is reminiscent of fairy tales in general.

The other stories do not hew as closely to the usual as the former but keep more of the standard elements than the latter. My favorites all struck a balance between familiarity and newness, and there were three I found particularly notable: “Hansel and Gretel,” “Cinderella,” and “Beauty and the Beast.” (“Red Riding Hood” also stood out to me as one of the better stories and probably would have been one of my favorites as well if I hadn’t already read a couple of similar stories.)

In “Hansel and Gretel,” the children’s mother is a gifted baker of rosewater ladoos and other delicious sweets—but when she becomes so successful that people only want to purchase her baked goods, the people accuse her of witchcraft, poke out her eyes, and send her into the forest. Though it includes some of what’s expected, such as having a trail of breadcrumbs and baking someone alive, it’s a very different story overall.

“Cinderella” is a cute story about friendship focusing on the titular character and her mouse companion, who was human until the prince’s betrothed transformed her for the crime of catching the eye of her affianced. Though the mouse was often irritated by Cinderella’s long-suffering attitude and refusal to stand up to her stepmother and stepsisters, she discovered her to be “the only girl in Spain who enjoyed the company of rodents” and their lifelong relationship grew from there.

In “Beauty and the Beast,” the Beast was not cursed for his cruelty but for rejecting a fairy’s marriage proposal, and Beauty does not agree to the Beast’s arrangement because she’s a good, virtuous daughter (although Lieu Wei, her father, believes that to be exactly the case). She’s willing to live with the Beast because she rather likes the idea of an isolated castle with a library and garden—and killing that pesky Beast so she can have it all to herself. This is one of the two stories with a sad ending, but it has a hint of sweet mixed in with the bitter and some loveliness related to sharing stories.

Though those were the main ones that stood out to me, many of the others challenged common tropes and explored intriguing questions. What if Snow White were the daughter of a Black woman, spurned by her husband once he saw his kingdom’s reaction to his new queen? What if the sea witch told the mermaid just how horrifying it was to drastically change herself for a man she’d never even spoken to before? What if Wendy fell in love with a pirate as she grew older and Peter Pan became increasingly bored with her? What if some princesses are also witches, and what if the heroine doesn’t want to marry the first handsome prince to enter the picture? (Curiously, one trope that wasn’t subverted is that of the wicked stepmother: “Snow White,” “Cinderella,” and “Hansel and Gretel” all have one.)

Beasts and Beauty is a decent book overall that does some interesting things in reimagining fairy tales, and I was able to enjoy and appreciate each story to some degree. However, few of the stories were especially memorable to me, and I didn’t find myself pondering most of them or wishing there were more of these tales to read when I reached the end.

My Rating: 6/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from a publicist.

Read an Excerpt or Listen to an Audio Sample from Beasts and Beauty