Sarah has always been on the move. Her mother hates the cold, so every few months her parents pack their bags and drag her off after the sun. She's grown up lonely and longing for magic. She doesn't know that it's magic her parents are running from.
If you’re suffering a surfeit of chocolate after the Easter weekend, Cat Hellisen’s bittersweet retelling of Beauty and the Beast may be just the thing to combat sugar overload.
‘That looks like an old book,’ my husband said, and I knew what he meant. The cover conjures up images of ancient libraries with leather armchairs and dust-covered shelves. It looks like the kind of book that should be read by firelight.
The story starts when Sarah’s mother walks out, on a night when ‘the air was full of ice.’ Sarah’s father, unable to cope, begins to change, becoming less human, more like a beast. Then he takes Sarah to stay with her grandparents and we are plunged sharply into the realm of fairytale – a crumbling tower surrounded by a sinister wood, all ruled over by a woman as cruel as frostbite. There Sarah learns of the curse that has pursued her family for generations: a curse that will turn her into a beast if she ever falls in love.
There’s a tendency towards dark retellings of fairytales nowadays, and there’s darkness aplenty to find here. But there are also moments of tremendous beauty, a plot that twists in unexpected places, a compassionate and determined heroine, and prose that is so gorgeously descriptive that I found myself stopping and rereading just to savour the way the words are put together.
If this book was an Easter egg it would be a posh, dark chocolate one. The literary style and slowly-unfolding story will appeal more to older middle-grade readers, and, of course, adults who enjoy a good fairytale.