The youngest of three daughters, all named after virtues, Beauty was nicknamed such when she said that she would rather her name be Beauty than Honour. Now she feels that her nickname is false because she is not as beautiful as her older sisters, Grace and Hope. Her given name holds no joy for her either, but she would rather be known for her intelligence and rationality than for a whim she had as a child.
She had always been comfortable with her life as the daughter of a wealthy merchant. She wants for nothing, but when her father’s business fails and they are forced to move to the country with Hope and Hope’s husband, Beauty finds that life on the farm is more fulfilling than her life in the city had been. That all changes when her father returns to the city after the news of a surviving shipment reaches them. When he returns, he brings Beauty a rose. . . . and forever changes her life.
Through time and crisis, it is clear that the three sisters were well-named. Grace is certainly the most graceful of the sisters, even when her betrothed is lost at sea and she wistfully waits for him to return. Hope falls in love with a common blacksmith and perseveres, learning to be a blacksmith’s wife if only to be with him. And Beauty, honorable Beauty, holds the family together through each tragedy as it comes, first as their father’s business fails and then when she selflessly goes to the castle of the Beast to save her father from death.
Beauty is my favorite Robin McKinley story. There’s a certain charm to it that her later, more polished novels simply don’t have. Part of it is Beauty herself: She’s innocent, intelligent, witty, and loving, and all of those qualities bring her to life. Then there’s the Beast: True to the classic fairy tale, he was transformed into a beast due to his own folly, and the only thing that will break his curse is if someone loved him despite his beastly form. Add to it the other strong characters in the story, like steadfast Hope and gentle Grace, and Beauty becomes truly compelling.
But even amazing characters need a driving force. Naturally, the Beast’s predicament serves that purpose well. However, Grace and Hope have their own stories that add layers to the plot and makes Beauty a more believable tale.
If you like fantasy, fairy tales, or Robin McKinley’s other books, then you’ll like Beauty. So grab a copy and prepare to enjoy this lovely story. And if you like it, you might want to check out a few of McKinley’s other books: Rose Daughter, which is another retelling of Beauty and the Beast; The Door in the Hedge, a collection of fantasy short stories; or The Blue Sword, the first in the Damar series. And if you’ve read it, feel free to tell me what you think!