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Robin McKinley's second retelling of Beauty and The Beast has much of the same elements of the first one from almost twenty years earlier: a merchant fallen on hard times has three daughters, the youngest one named Beauty, who move to the country and pick up the ways of life there, only to get into a sticky situation with a rose-loving Beast. This retelling, however, places a greater focus on the roses and the magic that surrounds the Beast's castle and ends up with a different feel (and ending, although it's still a Happily Ever After one) than the previous one.
Beauty has been fascinated with flowers ever since she was young, mainly because a distinctive flowery perfume is the only thing she remembers clearly about her mother. When her family is forced to leave town in disgrace to a country settlement called Rose Cottage, she takes up the job of tending the garden of roses there. However, when the roses she grows draws attention and speculation that she might be a greenwitch, she learns that there might be a dark story behind why no magic seems to be able to take root in the town ever since the previous occupant of Rose Cottage left.
After a hard year where the sisters' tempers run short and Beauty's roses fail to bloom, their father leaves to check out reports of one of his lost merchant ships having been found. The endeavor proves fruitless and the father is bogged down by a snowstorm on the way back home. Fortunately, he finds shelter and hospitality in a magnificent castle; unfortunately, his act of taking a rose with him to fulfill Beauty's wish for one incurs the wrath of the Beast who lives there.
The Beast tells him that he will spare his life if Beauty comes to live in his castle, so Beauty does. She learns that the Beast's rose garden is dying and resolves to bring it back to life; along the way, she meets many creatures, both seemingly ordinary and magical, and gets to know the Beast as more than a terrifying monster - but will it be enough to restore the rose garden? And what of the magic and back story that surrounds and even haunts the Beast?
This work contains examples of the following tropes:
- Bizarrchitecture: The Beast's castle has a constantly changing floor plan. Even the decorations and shape of tables keep on changing every time Beauty passes through the rooms.
- Chekhov's Gun: Beauty plants two rose cuttings from the rose her father gave her. This turns out to be a very good thing later on.
- Curse: It's said that a curse will fall if Rose Cottage is inhabitated by three sisters. Turns out that there wasn't really a curse, however.
- Dreaming of Things to Come: Beauty has a recurring dream of walking down a hallway and knowing there's a monster waiting for her at the end. However, her feelings toward the "monster" keep on changing from horror to pity, which initially confuses her.
- Fallen Princess: Beauty's sisters, while still not "wicked" like the sisters in the original fairy tale, are prouder than the first Beauty's sisters and have to learn humility and concern for others below their station when they lose their wealth and standing.
- Flower Motifs: Roses are extremely symbolic in this story. To quote one woman who goes to see Beauty's rose wreaths: "Roses are for love. Not forget-me-not, honeysuckle, silly sweethearts' love but the love that makes you and keeps you whole, love that gets you through the worst your life'll give you and that pours out of you when you're given the best instead."
- Fourth Date Marriage: Beauty spends only one week with the Beast, but her sisters can tell that she's already fallen in love with him when she speaks about him to them.
- Friend to All Living Things: Beauty befriends just about every animal that crosses her path, including a magical salamander, a bat, hedgehogs, a spider, toads, and a unicorn.
- The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Averted with nearly as much of a vengeance as it was in Beauty. Lionheart and Jeweltongue start off the novel as very difficult people and do quite a bit of developing over the course of the story, but even at the start of the story all three sisters get along quite well.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: When Beauty is transported back home, she forgets for a while the Beast's warning that she must use a petal from the rose he gave her before all the rose's petals fall off, and doesn't remember until it's almost too late. This might be due to malevolent magic forces conspiring to prevent her from rescuing the Beast, but it's not entirely clear.
- Meaningful Name: Lionheart is courageous and roars much like a lion when she gets mad, Jeweltongue is witty and sharp-tongued, and Beauty is, well, beautiful. People in the setting tend to have this kind of name in general; Ms. Bestcloth is a draper, Mr. Goldfield is a farmer, Mr. Whitehands is a baker and the Oldhouse family has lived in the town of Longchance for generations.
- The only notable exception is Jack Trueword, a spoiled and selfish young man who interrupts a literary meeting to tell a mean-spirited and almost completely false version of the story behind Rose Cottage and the (non-existent) curse on it. The rest of his family lives up to their name much better.
- Missing Mom: Leading to Tell Me About My Mother for Beauty.
- Something About a Rose: A given for all Beauty and The Beast tellings, of course, but this telling in particular has a heavy focus on the caring and meaning of roses. Especially in the castle, where practically everything inside has a rose motif, right down to the soap.
- Sweet Polly Oliver: Lionheart disguises herself as a boy to get a job as a stablehand.
- Sweet on Polly Oliver: ...and one of the sons of the family she's working for falls in love with her.
- True Beauty Is on the Inside: Well, duh, but there's actually an example of this before Beauty meets the Beast, when Beauty takes great care of a mass of extremely thorny, ugly, and seemingly dead plants and is rewarded when they bloom with beautiful and lovely-smelling roses.
- Year Outside, Hour Inside: Beauty stays with the Beast for only seven days, but when she returns to her sisters, she learns that seven months have passed for them.
- Which leads to a bit of Fridge Horror when you consider how fast the petals fell from the rose the Beast gave to Beauty even when she was away from the castle. If the condition of the rose represents the Beast's condition and it took less than a day for all the petals to fall outside of the castle, just how long did it take for the Beast to start dying when Beauty left him?