Saturday, February 25, 2017

Beauty and the Beast Retelling, with Japanese Accents

Barefoot on the Wind, Zoë Marriott
This lists as Book 2 in a series, but the pair run in tandem to each other (same world - yes, same story or characters - no) and this reads perfectly as a stand-alone companion (not sequel).  Barefoot is set in pastoral Japan, Marriott's retelling of the Beauty and the Beast is reminiscent of Uprooted (but is not so dark or heavy).  Also:
  • One thing it does very well is create an immediate sense of immersion in the world.
  • It's compelling and the plotting is tight.  If anything, it may be a little too neat, but I think it works for this sub-genre.
  • The scene imagery is enchanting.  The story is still fairly dark but this is lightened by the presence of hope and idealism.  The Japanese setting is present in more than a token way (in dress, food and abode descriptions, as well as some familial cultural tendencies) but does not saturate the pages in a way that would at all slow down, challenge or overwhelm a younger reader.
  • The main character is likable.  The characters generally are well-constructed and different from each other.
  • No humour that I can recall, predominantly a dramatic narrative.
  • No sex or swearing, and not really even steaminess .  Some violence and scary ideas. 
  • One neg: It felt overdone on emotions and thematic elements; the main characters mental incantations and thought processes stated the obvious and verged on melodramatic, as a result.  I thought it might just be a patch of it, but it continued throughout the book and it was something I came to sort of shake my head at and keep reading.  Feelings and responses to things were frequently stated and restated instead of shown, as though an effort to generate atmosphere had won out over all other devices and become transparent and louder than it should be.
  • The ethical reasoning (stated explicitly) for the community and historical characters sometimes felt like a stretch but I don't think it diminished the story.
Overall:  I think Marriott's tasteful retelling injects some much-needed diversity into the YA mainstream.  It didn't wow me, but it was enjoyable to read and certainly didn't offend me or have me filing it as "Not for my girls."  I'd be happy for them to read this at around 14 years of age (with the disclaimer it's scary).

Review copy received from Walker.
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