Beauty and the Beast is arguably one of my favourite Disney classics. I adored Tale as Old as Time and so the Beast’s version of the villain’s tale series had some pretty big boots to fill.
The Beast Within is the second book in the villains’ series and shifts between time periods to provide the reader with an insight to the Beast’s life before and after he was cursed. This was such an interesting concept because each version of Beauty and the Beast contains the vain prince who shuns the enchantress: it’s a pretty key part of the story! However, Serena Valentino expands upon this and, although the Prince becomes no more likeable, Valentino humanises him. We learn the extent of his vanity and, to be honest, probably dislike him more than the original version!
We also receive more of an insight into the Odd Sisters within this novel. We visit their house and gain an idea of the pecking order within the foursome. Yes foursome! I have not drunk too much prosecco and can no longer count (well not yet) – the witches have a little sister.
Circe is as beautiful as her sisters are odd and also happens to be engaged to the Prince (massive coincidence I am sure) but is rejected by him when his best friend Gaston reveals that her family are pig farmers. He claims she deceived him with her beauty and is sickened by her grotesque appearance now he knows the truth.
In fact, by placing Gaston and the Prince side by side we start to think that maybe Belle made the wrong choice by dismissing the shallow hunter so quickly!
Needless to say, Circe is crushed: she accuses him of behaving like a beast, being tainted by vanity and not capable of true love. The spurned witch curses the Prince, warning him that he will slowly transform into the horrifying creature that he is within.
The fact that the reader witnesses the full transformation of Prince into Beast is really interesting and Circe’s words have a profound effect on the Prince, his grasp on his sanity and his future relationships. He veers wildly between dismissing Circe as crazy whilst simultaneously finding a bride in order to break the spell.
Naturally, the Prince is not alone in this story: Mrs Potts, Cogsworth and Lumiere unwittingly become swept up in Circe’s curse. In fact, the odd sisters taunt the Beast, implying that he is only concerned about his servants because of what they may do to him if the curse is not lifted.
Valentino does choose to express that Mrs Potts, in particular, had great affection for the Prince and Gaston as children but this isn’t really played on at all. The reader does gain the sense that the Prince is cared for by his staff but there are no real relationships developed here. Even when Lumiere realises that the Prince views the objects of the curse differently from everyone else; there lacks the compassion and assistance of their animated counterparts.
Another relationship that lacked conviction was that between the Beast and Belle. This is one of the most iconic love stories in the Disney portfolio but I’m afraid I just wasn’t feeling it. I understand that Valentino needs to focus on Tulip: she is an important character who shows the Prince’s desperation, his unwillingness to change and his escalating beastly behaviour (she also links into the next book in the series). However, the focus on Tulip seems to sacrifice any detail when it comes to Belle. Yes, we learn that she attended the original ball and that she will do anything to save her father but that’s pretty much it. The blossoming romance that ensues is witnessed third hand via the odd sisters’ mirror and it begs the question: is this the tale of Beauty’s Prince or is the tale of Circe and her sisters?
Despite Circe being the youngest, it is often implied that she is more powerful than her older sisters and, although she does seem more sane, it cannot be said that Circe is a pushover: upon learning of her sisters’ involvement in the Beast’s fate, Circe punishes them; removes the curse and creates the spinning prince complete with fireworks that we remember from the original movie. This transition from bitter, heartbroken witch to sympathetic and forgiving is unforeseen and abrupt. To be honest it felt like it was a convenient way of shoe-horning the movie ending into the book.
Overall, I loved the potential of The Beast Within. I really enjoyed learning more about the Prince’s character and seeing a side of him that the reader cannot merely brush off as young or vain: he was a truly horrible person. I also loved the little nods to the fairy-tale world, such as Gaston suggesting a ball because it all worked out for the Prince’s friend “after the business with the slipper”.
Valentino also provides hints to future novels and so the references to Ursula were very intriguing as I prepare to read ‘Poor Unfortunate Soul’ next. There is the occasional reference to the old Queen, as well as the continuation of the theme of mirrors and love as a weakness: the odd sisters really do dominate the tales.
In a way I almost feel that the book has a little too much going on: we have the beast’s battle against the curse; the odd sister’s magic; Circe and Ursula’s little tangent and the original storyline. In my opinion, all of these factors make the ending of the book very rushed. For example, the Beast juxtaposes from being unable to fall in love with someone like Belle to presenting her with an entire library just to see her smile in a matter of sentences!
It is a shame because, after the ending of ‘Fairest of All’ I was expecting so much more. I did still like the book but I didn’t love it- I felt like the book could have expanded more on the more unique/dark aspects of the story, such as the creepy statues and the Beast’s alternative view of the curse.
Ah well, you can’t love them all! Onwards and upwards to Poor Unfortunate Soul!