Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Beginnings: Beauty and the Beast edition

Okay, you remember I recently got samples of a whole lot of Beauty and the Beast retellings, right? Well, I thought it would be interesting to just glance at the opening lines of all of them, one after the other, and see if any stand out. Turns out there are thirteen stories here. Let’s take a look:

1. The Eye of the Beholder (Nicole Ciacchella)

My earliest remembrance was that of issuing my first order. I was a lad of perhaps four, and I had tossed my ball across the courtyard, and decided that I did not wish to pursue it. I turned, looked at my nursemaid, and decided that I wished for her to get it so that I would not have to be troubled. Of course, this meant that my nursemaid was to be troubled, but that did not matter to me. What child of four ever worries about the troubles of others.

“Pick it up,” I told her, frowning and pointing at the ball.

Without a moment’s hesitation, she did as she was told.

What do you think? I’m all Eh, well, maybe. What a little snot this child is going to be, obviously. I wonder how long it will be until he gets cursed and gets over himself? There’s only so much ultra-brattiness I want to put up with, so hopefully it’ll happen soon.

2. The Merchant’s Daughter (Melanie Dickerson)

Annabel sat in the kitchen shelling peas into a kettle at her feet. A bead of sweat tickled her hairline while only the barest puff of warm air came through the open door.

“Annabel!” her brother called from the main house.

As she hurried to finish shelling the pea pod in her hand and see what Edward wanted, the pot of the fire began to boil over. She jumped up, banging her shin on the iron kettle on the floor.

A more realistic setting, a more familiar type of protagonist — actually rather Cinderella-ish. Hard to judge from this little tidbit.

3. Belle (Cameron Dokey)

I’ve heard it said – and my guess is you have too – that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But I’ve never been certain it’s true.

Think about it for a moment.

It sounds nice. I’ll give you that. A way for every face to be beautiful, if only you wait for the right pair of eyes. If only you wait long enough. I’ll even grant you that beauty isn’t universal. A girl who is considered drop-dead gorgeous in a town by the sea may find herself completely overlooked in a village the next county over.

Even so, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” doesn’t quite work, does it?

Not sure about this. Maybe yes, maybe no. Not super-keen on being lectured to by the protagonist right off the bat, and I feel like she’s going to possibly be all angsty and sorry for herself because she’s not pretty enough. I’d turn the page, though, and see where this is going.

4. The Shadow of the Bear (Regina Doman)

The two girls were alone in their house that night.

Inside was safe enough – the living room crammed full of the books and comfortable worn chair from their old country home. But right beyond the window was New York City, vast and dirty and dangerous. And a howling January snowstorm was wreaking its fury upon it.

A contemporary setting! Hmm. What is the enchanted castle going to be if this is set in New York? Or is this story going to go off in its own direction and not really stick too closely to the original?

5. Entreat Me (Grace Draven)

From the highest window in the keep, Ballard looked out upon the forests and fields of his family’s demesne and waited for his wife to die. A westerly breeze blew in the green scent of clover, along with the peppery musk of pine and ask that heralded the coming spring and the summer soon to follow. Summer had been Isabeau’s favorite season, but she wouldn’t live long enough to see this one or the bloom of her beloved roses.

The title is kind of a turn-of for me. But I really like the pathos of this beginning. I don’t see anything of Beauty and the Beast in it yet, but I like it.

6. Masque (WR Gingell)

Ambassadors’ Grand Parties are usually huge, glittering, boring affairs at best. One daren’t do anything untoward (comment upon how fat a grandee of state is getting, for example, even—especially—if he is). Despite this tacit prohibition, the hosting ambassador usually spends the evening in a red, sweaty lather, madly running here and there in a desperate bid to be sure that all his distinguished guests are comfortable and sufficiently flattered. Ambassadors’ wives, on the other hand, tend to watch the proceedings with an amused eye, and pat their husbands affectionately upon the head every time a harried dash brings them sufficiently close to do so.

Maybe? There’s a little bit of a snide tone here — how awful those grandees are, letting themselves go like that, and those poor silly ambassadors. Not sure I am all that sympathetic to the narrator.

7. Depravity (MJ Haag)

I wrapped my hands around the cold bars of the massive, black iron gate and glared after the smith’s sons, Tennen and Splane Coalre. The pair cast nervous glances back at me as they scurried away from the beast’s shadowy garden. They had locked me inside because of misdirected spite. It wasn’t my fault I’d seen what I had.

“This is what you get, Benella,” Tennen had said as he had pushed me into the beast’s lair.

Tennen thought his treatment just. However, the current situation was anything but just.

Horrible title. But a promising beginning. The writing doesn’t seem all that wonderful, but I do like the situation.

8. Of Beast and Beauty (Stacy Jay)

In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret. The secret was as old as the cracked cobblestone streets of Yuan, as peculiar as the roses that bloom eternally within the domed city’s walls, as poisonous as forgotten history and the stories told in its place.

By the time the girl was born, the secret was all but lost. The stories had become scripture, and only the very brave – or very mad – dared to doubt them. The girl was raised on the stories, and never questioned their truth, until the day her mother took her walking beyond the city walls.

Oh, really nice writing here. I like this a lot. This is the first one where I find it hard *not* to go on with the story right now.

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9. The Fire Rose (Mercedes Lackey)

Golden as sunlight, white-hot, the Salamander danced and twisted sinuously above a plat sculpted of Mexican obsidian, ebony glass born in the heart of a volcano and shaped into a form created exactly to receive the magic of a creature who bathed in the fires of the volcano with delight. It swayed and postured to a music only it could hear, the only source of light in the otherwise stygian darkness of the rom. At times a manikin of light, at times in the shape of the mundane salamander that bore the same name, this was the eyes and ears of the mage who had conjured it.

Intriguing.

10. A Court of Thorns and Roses (Sarah Maas)

The forest had become a labyrinth of snow and ice.

I’d been monitoring the parameters of the thicket for an hour, and my vantage point in the crook of a tree branch had turned useless. The gusting wind blew thick flurries to sweep away my tracks, but buried along with them any signs of potential quarry.

Hunger had brought me farther from home than I usually risked, but winter was the hard time The animals had pulled in, going deeper into the woods than I could follow, leaving me to pick off stragglers one by one, praying they’d last until spring.

They hadn’t.

I don’t find the writing all that strong here. Where and when are we? “Monitoring” and “parameters” are such modern words; is this supposed to be a modern setting? And is “parameters” exactly the right word? Could the narrator mean “perimeter?” Though that wouldn’t be plural; a thicket only has one perimeter.

Also, what animals? Wouldn’t this be stronger and more visual if the author mentioned bears that have disappeared into dens, deer that have tucked themselves away in thick woods where the firs break the force of the wind, etc? *Would* there be “stragglers”? I mean, it’s not like a couple of bears or whatever might not have noticed that it’s the middle of winter. They all hibernate at about the same time.

So, offhand, not super keen on going on with this one.

11. Roses (GR Mannering)

She panted into the chilled air. Snowflakes fluttered around her like ashen butterflies, clinging to her lashes and to the hood of her thick cloak. Champ, her warhorse, tore through the night’s darkness with clouds of warm breath, and his flanks heaved after the rush of the ride.

Before them in the enchanted quiet stood a castle. It was just as it had been described to her, and she grimaced slightly, for she had hoped that it was not real. The snowflakes whirled around its façade without settling, brushing against the latticed windows and marble arches. It was vast and rich with numerous turrets of coppery brick that appeared to rise higher and higher until they were lost in the white of the snowstorm. Its outline flickered against the magenta sky and shifted under her gaze as if it almost were not there.

“Champ”? Oh, please. At least when Beauty named her horse Greatheart, she was like eight years old.

On the other hand, I like the idea of this girl hoping the castle wasn’t real and that she wouldn’t find it. I don’t think I’d have balked at the magenta sky if I hadn’t just read the beginning of #10, which primed me to be picky and irritable. Besides, maybe the sky really is magenta, though that seems a little unlikely.

12. Heart’s Blood (Juliet Marillier)

At a place where two tracks met, the carter brought his horse to a sudden stop.

“This is where you get down,” he said.

Dusk was falling, and mist was closing in over a landscape curiously devoid of features. Apart from low clumps of grass, all I could see nearby was an ancient marker stone whose inscription was obscured by a coat of creeping mosses. Every part of me ached with weariness. “This is not even a settlement!” I protested. “It’s – it’s nowhere!”

“This is as far west as your money takes you,” the man said flatly. “Wasn’t that the agreement? It’s late. I won’t linger in these parts after nightfall.”

Poor kid! Sure, I’d go on with this.

13. Beast (Donna Jo Napoli)

The lion-ape lunges from the tree a moment too late; Bahram Chubina’s arrow has already sealed its fate.

I gasp roughly. Beast and warrior glow white, burning, against the gold ground. The sun glints off the illuminated pages as it glints off the metal mar – snake – that twists around and around from my wrist to my elbow. My fists clench; I am aghast at dying, aghast at killing.

“Orasmyn?”

I turn, startled.

Mother comes in, her face unveiled – she has not yet left the palace this morning. The pleasure of seeing the dark silver moons under her eyes, her full cheeks, pulls me at once from the violence on the page to the sweet calm of our lives.

What a sensitive flower, so aghast at killing and dying that he can’t handle an adventure story. I am rolling my eyes at this twit already and it hasn’t even been a full page.

Okay, so! The CLEAR, OBVIOUS winner here is #8, Stacy Jay’s Of Beast and Beauty. Yes? Anybody disagree?

After that, I would be most inclined to go on with #5, #7, or #12. I grant you, I’m biased toward #12 because I already think Marillier is a great writer.

For me, just based on these little tidbits, #10 — A Court of Thorns and Roses — is at the bottom. Popular sucker, though. 11,000 reviews on Goodreads, overall rating over 4.0. Well, I’m not persuaded it’d work for me. Have any of you read it? What did you think?

And I must say that #13 is just about tied for the bottom spot. The narrator just seems so precious. If anybody has read Napoli’s Beast, Yes/No for Orasmyn being a bit of a twit?

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10 Comments Beginnings: Beauty and the Beast edition

  1. Elaine T

    I sort of read the Doman #4 – wound up skimming and don’t recall if I finished – but it’s not Beauty and the Beast, it’s Snow White and Rose Red. I’d reread Wrede’s take not long before and the comparison wasn’t kind to Doman’s work. I may try again.

    I’ve read #5 and left a review wtte ‘would have been a good short story.’

    Early Napoli was interesting, but she hasn’t held my attention for quite a few books, now, and that protaganist is an example of why.

    #8 & 11 look promising.

    #6 puts me off by the narrator’s snidenss and the author’s apparent misunderstanding of the social duties: ambassador’s wives are just as invested in everything going well, they wouldn’t be just watching and patting hubby on the head, they’d be in the thick of the affair making sure everything is smooth, too. (think corporate wives, preacher’s wives.) Failure reflects on both, so world-building fail in the first paragraph. Rather like #10’s.

  2. Evelyn Alexie

    The only one of these that I’ve read is #6 (and it’s free on Amazon, btw). I ended up liking it, but not for the B&TB theme. After a few pages, the heroine started to remind me strongly of Amelia Peabody (Elizabeth Peter’s heroine of many books) and I like Amelia.

  3. Irina

    The only one I’ve read is #9 and I love it, though it’s a bit fraught with issues (orientalism, cultural appropriation, sexual depravity as shorthand for evil). Also Robin McKinley’s Beauty and Rose Daughter, very different, both delightful.b

  4. Brandy

    I really like what Of Beast and Beauty does with the tale. The world is an interesting one too.

    I really liked Heart’s Blood when I read it too. It ranks second in my readings of Mariller’s books. (Behind Wildwood Dancing.) Though I haven’t reread either one in quite some time.

    I’ll be interested to see your thoughts if you continue with the Mass one. I’m so far from impressed with her writing but her books get so much hype.

  5. madscientistnz

    #4 Doesn’t sound like Beauty and the Beast but I’d continue
    #5 I very much like Graven Dravens later work, so I’d definitely continue.
    #6 I like Amelia Peabody (and free) so going to get that right now!
    #8 I skip over Stacey Jay’s work, but can’t remember why now. Intriged by the opening.
    #9 I generally like Mercedes Lackeys fairy tale retellings, but this didn’t work for me
    #10 I very much liked this book, looking forward to the next. I was intrigued by the relationships and the politics of the world, and want to see how the competing obligations/desires of the main character play out in the next book. (The ending was satisfying and happy, but more of a rest and regroup point than the end of the story)
    I’m quite happy with with just ‘animals’. I get the important info ( cold, hunger, desperation) without being slowed down by too much description. I like to be immersed and race along with my reading.

  6. Charlotte

    RE #6–my own father was an actual ambassador, and the formal parties he and my mother gave were nothing like this! My father certainly charmed people, but I don’t think he went out of his way to flatter. And if you have a well-run household, things usually go just fine without anyone, even the support staff, getting red faced, and if something does go wrong, ambassadors (and their spouses) are able to make it a non-deal breaker (I have some good family stories. Also see Laurence Durrell’s Stiff Upper Lip). So I am totally put off by this….

  7. SarahZ

    I liked A Court of Thorns and Roses, but didn’t love it. Good characters, interesting setting, but some bits that annoyed me. My biggest issue was that I wish it were a standalone, not a series starter.

  8. mona

    I liked Marillier’s Heart’s Blood. I don’t consider it Beauty and the Beast, although the parallels are there.

    Not a fan of Lackey’s The Fire Rose much, but then her characters and work / themes get pretty repetitive after a while. Axe grinding, someone called that trilogy about flying? That’s it.

    I read Napoli’s Beast when I was younger. I don’t remember too much about the story, except disliking the Beast. I ended up donating that one even when I used to refuse to part with my books. So that says something.

    Oh, Belle by Dokey. Good story, but if you’re annoyed by the writing, you might not want to read too much of the works she’s written as part of this series (Once Upon a Time, multiple authors). Or at least, not right after each other because the writing is all like that (the characters are each different though esp compared to Lackey’s work). I like the stories, so I would suggest trying it. It’s short too.

  9. Phineas

    I have to confess I didn’t like the opening of #8. The echo of the beginning of John strikes me as pretentious, but could be I’m overly touchy. I haven’t read #5, but I thought Radiance by the same author was pretty good so I would probably be inclined to pick that one of the ones listed. Or maybe Marillier since I haven’t read any of her books but your recommendations usually work out for me.

    I’m not sure if it’s been mentioned here before, but Beauty and the Beast by K.M. Shea also has a great opening:
    “The servants of Chanceux Chateau would have screamed if they could when the stained-glass skylight in the little hall shattered, and a young woman fell through the ceiling with the broken glass.”

    But really, it’s hard to beat the opening lines of Bryony and Roses.

  10. Rachel

    Thanks for chiming in!

    Irina, I love McKinley, Beauty more than Rose Daughter, but I was sticking to samples of the ones I haven’t read yet. Later maybe I’ll compare my favorites from this list to my favorites I’ve already read. I agree with Phineas that as far as opening lines go, it’s probably impossible to beat the rutabagas in Bryony and Roses.

    Charlotte, yep, I can definitely see that not-very-competent ambassadors would be a total turn-off for you! I’ll go on with #6 anyway . . . eventually . . . and treat it like one of the Amelia Peabody stories: not to be taken seriously.

    I have hardly read anything by Lackey, so I can go into her book without concern for possible issues that might emerge if I read one of hers after another.

    I’m sure I’ll try Sarah Maas’ book eventually just out of curiosity, but I’m guessing I may not finish it. I understand what madscientistnz is saying about not needing much detail and liking to rush ahead the story, but I’m a very visual reader and I like more description to hang a story on. And the thing with the modern words in what doesn’t seem to be a modern setting really is jarring for me.

    Phineas, I’ve picked up a sample of the book by Shea! That is a really good opening.

    The echo of John didn’t bother me; I read it as simple literary allusion rather than pretension.

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