“What if Belle’s mother cursed the Beast?”
I’m going to come right out and say (although you will probably be able to tell if you make it to the end of this blog) that this is, so far, my favourite book in the twisted tale series. Seriously, this is the second time I have read it and I loved it just as much as the first time. I got just as engrossed in the story and I seriously think Liz Braswell and I could be best friends!
As Old As Time is the retelling of Beauty and the Beast and opens with the familiar story of the enchantress and the young, vain prince that we all know. You can probably still picture the stained-glass scene from the original 1991 movie and the dramatic ballroom scene in the 2017 remake.
Refusing to be eclipsed by these though, Braswell follows the well-known tale with: “It was a very good story. It often entertained the woman who lay in her black hole of a room, manacled to a hard, cold bed.”
There, with one fell swoop, on the second page of the book, Braswell brings an almost gothic darkness to the fairy tale. Of course, some would say it is already dark: very few people who are cursed to become a beast are particularly jolly about the situation! However, Braswell goes one step further by both revealing the story behind the enchantress and taking us on a journey to discover the ugly truth in the present.
Liz Braswell creates a kingdom where magic and non-magic people have lived together peacefully for years but where politics and a lack of cultural understanding is threatening to tear that apart as les charmantes find themselves persecuted by les naturels. (I can’t imagine where she draws her inspiration from(!))
It is in this kingdom that we meet a young dreamer called Maurice and the enchantress Rosalind, Belle’s mother (nicknamed Rose- so clever!). Maurice is very much a younger version of the character we grew up with: loveable and devoted to his inventions. Rosalind however is much more headstrong and impulsive: even changing her appearance on a whim. Her pride is fierce and we first meet her holding her own against a large man insulting ‘her kind’, calling her unnatural and a child of the devil. The bully soon learns the error of his ways when his nose is replaced by a pig’s snout but a warning runs all the way through this tale: “magic always comes back on itself”.
Maurice and Rosalind’s life is happy and settled at first but they soon start to witness the persecution of les charmantes for themselves. Thus, when the King and Queen call on Rosalind to protect them against the advancing plague, she passionately fights for her people…only to be rejected and turned away. Maurice, always the voice of reason, convinces Rosalind to at least protect the children and servants and so it comes to pass that Rosalind later visits the young prince, on the eve of his coronation, carrying with her the simple gift of a rose.
Braswell’s character development is, as always, impressive. Belle is immediately relatable as the kooky bookworm we know and love: her story running parallel to the film until we, as readers, develop a relationship with her parents. It is then that we discover there is a slight edge to Belle. Although clearly tortured by the fact her mother cursed a 10-year-old boy, Braswell’s Belle is desperate to be adventurous and heroic like the characters in her books but soon realises an adventure is not all it is cracked up to be. Like her mother, Belle can be quite impulsive: grabbing the enchanted rose before the beast can stop her and destroying any chance of breaking the spell. However, she is also quick and cunning, tricking the wardrobe into revealing the curse’s timeline. Nevertheless, the bravery of our protagonist can never be doubted and Belle embarks on one hell of a journey to discover the truth about her family and herself.
Uniquely, within As Old As Time we slowly see side-line characters weave their way into the lives and stories of our characters. Levi and Alaric, for example, are old friends of Maurice and Rosalind and are seemingly insignificant to the story at first. However, Levi is also the godfather to Belle and the village bookseller (“If you like it that much, it’s yours!” – that guy). Alaric on the other hand has a significant link to the castle and both carry clues with them that assist Belle on her quest.
Any Beauty and the Beast tale would not be complete without LeFou and Gaston – that infamous double act- but even Gaston is ever so slightly darker than his animated counterpart. Frederic: another friend from the past and, quite frankly, odd from the start also plays a pivotal role in the story but I won’t spoil the surprise for you!
As Old As Time is true to its name: weaving two stories into its plot at different points in time: the story that we all know and the story of how that came to be. It is an ominous tale with curses, murder, creepy ivy statues and a frankly terrifying tour of the lunatic asylum.
It is not all doom and gloom however; Liz Braswell takes a very tongue-in-cheek attitude towards the infamous scenes within Beauty and the Beast: invoking a dry sense of humour into the story. From a chapter named “Be Our … Oh You Know the Rest” to a direct reference to Stockholm Syndrome: Braswell makes sure that we do not expect her novel to be a copycat, heartfelt tale with a happy ending. Belle even remarks to the Beast that hoping she would fall in love with him within a month or so was wildly unrealistic.
This is very much a novel for the cynical Disney lovers amongst us and highly deserving of its title of a twisted tale!