7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review. I’ve followed this book over the course of various development on the author’s blog, and I’ll be honest, that does color my opinion of this book; but for the purposes of this review, I’ll try to stick outline what I think makes this book unique from others in its genre.
This is one of those fairy-tale retellings, which might be a genre of its own. As far as what kind of fairy-tale retelling this is, I suppose you could classify it under the category “historical re-contextualization”. The story takes place in 18th century Venice. Well, actually, given the nature of the Beauty and the Beast-type story, a large part of the story takes place in a palazzo away from Venice, but when the story does take the reader to Venice, the author really tries to take us to Venice. The canals, the boats, and of course, the Carnevale. I actually expected to see more of Venice, since I was aware from the author’s blog that she had done her research; but to that end, the end of this novel teases the next one which could potentially incorporate even more Venice.
This is, as the cover claims, first and foremost a Beauty and the Beast retelling. As far as BatB retellings go, you might wonder how it deals with some of the BatB elements like – does she get Stockholm Syndrome, why her father leaves her with the Beast, why does she leave and fail to return, etc. The Stockholm Syndrome aspect was handled really well in this reimagining, because, as the blurb states, Faustina gets stuck on the island with the “Beast” because of the curse, and she has to be very careful because she doesn’t know if he’s insisting she can’t leave because the curse is real, or because he is inventing a story to serve more devious purposes. The “Beast”, Benedetto, at first is actually kind of happy that the curse trapped a pretty lady along with him (though he feels guilty for selfishly feeling happy at her misfortune), but that was before he discovers that she was attempting to rob him. Now he’s stuck with a thief. This set-up also a great way to deal with the other troubling BatB elements like how everyone is manipulating Beauty to fall in love with the Beast.
As for Beauty’s father, in this version, she is (essentially) an orphan. But speaking of “historical re-contextualization”, she is actually the sister of Giacomo Casanova, a notorious figure from Venetian history. Readers may be familiar with him from his media portrayals by Heath Ledger and David Tennant. And it so happens that the real Giacomo Casanova did indeed have a sister called Faustina Maddalena, who died at age 5. So call this a “what if” story if you will. But Giacomo makes a big flamboyant appearance in this book and his presence is infuriating and entertaining in equal measure. He doesn’t exactly play the same role as Beauty’s father, but he does engineer scenarios that create the necessary effect, and his motives are just as infuriating and entertaining by equal measure.
And finally, one of the more subtle things about this book is how the author deals with the gender roles. It’s subtle, but the gender roles between Faustina and Benedetto are swapped on many occasions. Faustina is the thief, doing business with shady dealers in shady pubs/osterias, climbing out of windows, walking along ledges, dropping from balconies to the ground. Benedetto is a type-A/OCD personality, keeping his palazzo neat and tidy and efficient and functional. He cooks and cleans with utmost precision (and actually makes a wide variety of Italian dishes over the course of the book). But it’s not a complete gender flip either; there are plenty of scenes in which Faustina, out of boredom tries to help him with his gardening and pig farming, and can’t match his strength. But the best part is that the gender roles aren’t actually ever brought up or addressed. The small flips are slipped into the narrative.
There were a few things in the book I wasn’t completely clear on. There are things about Venetian culture I don’t fully understand. For example, I don’t fully understand where Venetians draw the line of propriety. They definitely seem much more liberal than their British contemporaries (I’m thinking of Regency-era Britain), but at the same time, there are scandals caused comparatively harmless scenarios. Also, this book had quite an interesting take on “magic”, but I wish it had been explored more. I got the sense that maybe the use of magic in this book is perhaps building up to a bigger picture, so maybe I have to wait till the next book to get that full picture.
Now, for recommending this book: I certainly recommend to anyone who likes fairy-tale retellings, or BatB-themed stories. I wouldn’t classify this book as YA (I suppose because none of the characters are teenagers), but it’s appropriate for young readers, especially those who like those YA romances with a light dusting of fantasy. I would recommend it to anyone who likes historical romances. There is definitely a rom-com vibe to the story (but like a well written one with very enjoyable dialogue), because the middle is all about the interactions between Faustina and Benedetto, their snarky conversations, and the gradual respect and attraction that develops. At the same time, it’s definitely not a “steamy” kind of romance. (Is it weird that I associate historical romances with steamy romances?)
This book leaves off with a teaser about a companion novel, which is also going to be a fairy-tale retelling. I won’t say which one in this review, but you’ll figure it out pretty easily. ;)