Published by Macmillan on February 3rd 2015
Genres: Fairy Tales, Fantasy, MG Books, YA (Young Adult)
Source: the publisher
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.
When Sarah’s mother walks out on their family, all the strange old magic they have tried to hide from comes rising into their mundane world. Her father begins to change into something wild and beastly, but before his transformation is complete, he takes Sarah to her grandparents—people she has never met, didn’t even know were still alive.
Deep in the forest, in a crumbling ruin of a castle, Sarah begins to untangle the layers of curses affecting her family bloodlines, until she discovers that the curse has carried over to her, too. The day she falls in love for the first time, Sarah will transform into a beast . . . unless she can figure out a way to break the curse forever.
This beautifully written fairytale surprised me at every turn, both in plot and in tone. It’s shot through with the darker emotions: grief, loss, jealousy. At one point, a character speaks of “unhappily-ever-after.” I should have taken heed. Beastkeeper is far more Grimm than Disney, and full of moral ambiguity. No character is completely “good” or “evil”; all of them make choices, many unwise, and all of them are, to a certain extent, trapped by the choices they or others make.
The odd thing is that while the themes are more adult, the protagonist is a twelve-year-old girl. For that reason, I kept thinking of it as a middle-grade book, but it isn’t – not unless your middle-grader is fairly mature. Beastkeeper is classified as YA, but it doesn’t fit comfortably into any category. Comfort is not its aim.
The writing itself is powerful and deceptively simple, filled with subtle and not-so-subtle references to beasts and birds, and evocative of pent-up misery and occasional flashes of joy.
“Sarah just turned her face to the window and ignored him. It was to punish him, a little, but it was also because she didn’t think she’d be able to say anything and not have her whole chest break open and spatter the car with all the things she was trying not to feel.”
Brief but vivid descriptions bring both our world and the magical world of Beastkeeper to life:
“Sometime during the night the tarred road had given way to a smooth track of packed red sand, like a lane of beaten copper. The edges of the path were rutted by water and filled with stones, but the center line was clear. No tire tracks, no pebbles, not even the faint green wisp of a weed marred the road. On either side the grass grew pale and thin, a waist-high sea of feathery white-gold.”
I had seen Beastkeeper described as “Beauty and the Beast, but the Beast is a girl,” but that’s true only in the very loosest of interpretations. There is more than one Beast; Sarah may become one of them. Falling in love does not break the curse; rather the opposite. There are no invisible servants, no rose. And there is more than one curse, more than one witch — even, in a sense, more than one Prince. A few of the traditional story’s elements remain (Sarah’s father goes with her as far as the castle, for instance), but this is much farther from “Beauty and the Beast” than The Lion King is from Hamlet: a darkly enchanting and original fairytale that will stay with you long after you close its covers.
Recommended for: fans of Patricia McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and Neil Gaiman’s Stardust.
COYER eligibility: free (ARC). Fairytale challenge: “Beauty and the Beast” (very loosely). PopSugar challenge: A book with a one-word title. Witches & Witchcraft challenge: 2 witches
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- 2015 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
- COYER Winter 2014-2015
- Fairytale Challenge 2015
- PopSugar 2015 Reading challenge