How refreshing it is to come across a retelling of a traditional fairytale that goes beyond taking the plot of the original story and simply tweaking it a little to suit the alternate, new version. "of Beast and Beauty" does much more than that, and adds a new dimension to the story of Beauty and the Beast while maintaining the original emotional center.
I loved that Isra could also be looked at as the beast figure in the beginning, the way she was acting towards Gem and her opinion of the Monstrous. In the same way Gem could also be a sort of beauty in an emotional sense. It was this duality of the emotional and physical state of both characters that I think I enjoyed most in this book, the fact that the reader could explore and transcend beyond the originally established boundaries. Even despite the slight frustration I felt with Isra and Gem, how they were constantly questioning themselves and their emotions, it is this complexity that made them feel real and vulnerable, the way characters should feel. I think they desire for a perfect fictional character is what has been a let down in the YA genre lately, so to come across a cast of characters that isn't afraid to show the reader just what they feel and fear is wonderful.
I wish the cultural background was clarified a bit better. The character names like Junjie and Bo, even the city name of Yuan itself, gave off an eastern vibe, although it wasn't specifically specified where the settlers came from, from which countries or nationalities. I think it would've strengthened the story a little bit. If the city was given a little more colour, the way the desert clans were, it would've made it easier to connect with them in a way other than feeling like the majority was ignorant and selfish with no desire to see past the lie they knew about the covenant.
That aside, I enjoyed "Of Beast and Beauty", more than I expected, to be honest. The fairy tale beginning and closing make for very tidy bookends for the story, opening and closing it in such a way that all questions are answered and ambiguity as at a minimum. You have your intrigue, romance, and conflicting feelings nicely sprinkled in the middle of these two, with two main characters that make it difficult not to root for them and their success. A well re-imagined story with a new twist, and a darker layer that I think will be appreciated by all.