Rebel Rose by Emma Theriault

Set against the backdrop of revolutionary France, ‘Rebel Rose’ continues the story of Beauty and the Beast after the curse is broken. Belle and her Prince now have to find a way to navigate married life, rank, politics and explain a 10-year absence from the French Court of Versailles.

Controversially, Emma Theriault baits the hardcore Disney fans straight out of the gates by naming her Prince Lio (Lio, Lion, beast, gettit?) rather than Adam. In the grand scheme of things this can easily be forgiven but it still seems a strange choice. Maybe Adam was too English for a French Prince?
However, the use of first person perspective ensures that our protagonist remains firmly in Belle. Belle has refused the title of Princess upon marriage in order to stay true to her roots but is constantly hiding her true self: even referring to a trip around Europe as “one last adventure before the walls of the castle close around her”. When Belle witnesses the revolutionary sparks within the city this divides her further: how can she be part of the nobility these people rally against and an avid “commoner” at the same time?

In truth, Belle as a character divided me as well. Belle has always been my favourite Disney Princess (possibly to do with that massive library) and, in the most part, I feel Theriault wrote her well and stayed true to the character. However, in the early pages Belle felt very spoilt and selfish to me: preferring to disguise herself and explore Paris rather than support Lio in explaining his decade-long disappearing act to King Louis.
I was intrigued to know what my fellow reviewers thought and was unsurprised to see a LOT of criticism of our heroine, her shunning of the title of Princess and her lack of enthusiasm to be a leader. However, I almost felt that this made the story more realistic. Just because she broke a curse and married a Prince doesn’t mean she can automatically feel ready and comfortable leading a kingdom! Maybe she just has a fondness for hairy men?
Belle’s reluctance and tentativeness to lead also fed very nicely into her passion to improve the lives of the residents of the kingdom of Aveyon. This is common sense to her and therefore doesn’t feel like ruling. Indeed, it is not seen by any of the main characters as ruling but in the end it saves them all from a revolution of their own.

I would have liked Lio to be a little bit more developed than he was. The fact that he harboured an element of PTSD from the curse was really interesting but not explored any further than his nightmares and aversion towards roses. There was undoubtedly chemistry between him and Belle but it was just a bit lacklustre in my opinion. This may be due to his absence for a lot of the book but I felt the reader could have loved him a lot more than we did.

Lio’s cousin Bastien is the slimy villain of the tale and I would have liked a bit more mystery and suspense within his character. I appreciated that Belle didn’t like him initially as he was a powdered, wig wearing noble who was close to King Louis, basically as far away from Belle as possible. Bastien is also quite snobby towards Belle in his earliest chapters so you can’t blame her for disliking him.  However, by using language to plainly show that Belle distrusts her husband’s cousin, Theriault instantly creates a flashing neon “villain” sign above his head. This would have been fine in a middle-grade book but within YA I think the reader could have been afforded to be misled a couple of times before uncovering Bastien’s real intentions.

**This section contains spoilers**
I also believe that Bastien’s eventual story arc was a tad unbelievable. At first I thought his revolutionary sympathies and further plots with various goons was a ruse in order to gain the throne for himself, particularly once he had established himself firmly with the advisory. Emma Theriault’s decision to keep Bastien true to the revolution seemed rushed, and a bit odd to be honest. This is a noble who lives in the lap of luxury and attends to King Louis himself but who then turns on his own kind after basically forcing the kingdom of Aveyon to break away from France? It didn’t seem plausible to me.

Rebel Rose is an easy to read continuation of one of our favourite Disney tales. It reintroduces us to old favourites such as Mrs Potts and Lumiere as well as introducing new characters such as Marguerite and Bastien. Belle’s journey to staying true to herself and following her gut is one anyone can empathise with and her discovery that she does not have to appease to outsider’s expectations will never cease to be important.

The magic contained within this novel is a perfect springboard for the rest of the novels within the Queen’s Council series: the next one is based on Mulan and will be written by Livia Blackburne before Jasmine’s story by Alexandra Monir follows in 2022. The majority of the action within this novel does take place towards the end so it can be a little slow paced and politics focused but I enjoyed seeing Belle and Lio break free of their fairytale life and become a little more real.

Although this isn’t my favourite Disney novel, I do appreciate the break away from the retelling genre and the move towards bringing these well-known characters into the real world. For a debut novel I think Emma Theriault should be immensely proud: the research for the historical context alone must have been a mission!

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