January 29, 2015 Book Reviews 23 ★★★★½

BeastkeeperBeastkeeper by Cat Hellisen
Published by Macmillan on February 3rd 2015
Genres: Fairy Tales, Fantasy, MG Books, YA (Young Adult)
Pages: 208
Format: eARC
Source: the publisher
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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:

  • COYER Winter 2014-2015
  • Fairytale Challenge 2015
  • PopSugar 2015 Reading challenge
  • Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge 2015

23 Responses to “Beastkeeper”

  1. R_Hunt @ View From My Home

    What an interesting story! Just from the brief snippets you shared, it doesn’t strike me as MG style writing. It seems geared for YA & up, and is lyrical and lovely. I wonder if this is a retelling of some fairy tale I’m not familiar with. It doesn’t sound like Beauty and the Beast, so I’m confused as to why some have labeled it as so. Your thoughts?
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    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      It’s overall quite different from Beauty and the Beast, but it was marketed (at least at one point) as “Beauty and the Beast” with the Beast being a girl. If you read the reviews on Goodreads, many of them call it that. But based on my reading, although I can see places where the author drew inspiration from the “Beauty and the Beast” story, it’s fairly original and not what I would really call a retelling. As for the target age, the author mentions in a comment (on Wendy Darling’s review on Goodreads) that the book had a hard time finding its niche, and I can see why. But it’s beautiful and dark-woven-with-moments-of-light and altogether worth reading.

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      Good point. It seems to me a lot of fantasy is trending darker, whether UF or epic and no matter what the age. And this isn’t quite UF, for all it starts out in our world.

  2. Dreams

    I am jealous of this one! I wanted to read it, but was denied, so now I have to wait. But your review makes me feel better about waiting. I was afraid after the novelty of reading the blurb wore off I wasn’t going to like it. (Mainly because of her age.) But a darker middle grade sort of book should still be deep enough that it won’t make me feel ancient for reading it. I really love the darker versions of fairy tales, so even if it’s not a strict retelling, it sounds like it has enough elements to make it worth checking out.
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    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      I think you’ll enjoy it! It’s not quite MG, probably more YA despite her age – but there’s plenty there for an adult to appreciate.

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      Thank you, Stephanie! 🙂 This one really deserves praise – though it comes across more like an original than a retelling.

  3. Mel@thedailyprophecy

    I didn’t know the MC was 12 years.. that does change things a little. I don’t mind MG books, but if it’s targeted as YA I like it more if it’s an older character for some reason. I like that it’s sort-of inspired by Beauty and the beast, but still manages to stand on its own 🙂
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