Sometimes, we as authors–and even as an audience–find ourselves looking for a more complicated plot when dealing with classic myths and legends everyone knows. We burden a story beyond belief and wonder what we saw in it in the first place. So, it’s a real pleasure to find one of those classics stripped back and tweaked just enough for queer consumption. Moreover, it’s done in just over two hundred pages (this is the third in Queen of Swords Press’s mini-series), and it’s as charming and mysterious as you could possibly ask for.
Anton, a merchant, plucks a rose as he flees the property of Philippe, a fay Beast, and his sister, Grace, involving himself and one of his three daughters in a curse put on Philippe and Grace by a nearby fairy Peronelle, who is watching the drama unfold. Anton must go back home and select one of his three daughters to return to Philippe, fall in love with him, and take her place as mistress of the household. Practical Alys gets the nod, but she can’t fall in love with a Beast. She’s never fallen in love with anyone. Almost, that is. And that turning is where we leave you wondering where it goes.
The beauty and the beast isn’t one of my favorite classic legends, but Heather Rose Jones’s enthusiasm for the material lifts this up into interesting and novel (to me, anyway) territory, and I thoroughly enjoyed her take on it. It winks at queerness, but what really puts this over for me is the combination of wide-eyed wonder and stoic practicality with which Alys reacts to her situation.
Jones’s prose has a light, lyrical touch perfectly suited for this story and subject. I do wish it was longer, but I also admire a writer who knows when she needs to bring things to a close. That shows a much better sense of pacing than dragging things out with false endings and epilogues galore.
So, if you’re not overly familiar with the myth–and most especially if you are–you need to give this fresh take a try. There’s much to like in Jones’s stylized forest. Just watch the briars.
© 2022 Jerry L. Wheeler