Review: Beauty by Sarah Pinborough

It’s Sleeping Beauty but not as you know her…
Imagine a tower surrounded by briars, a brave prince, and a beautiful, enchanted, sleeping girl…
…and now read the true story of Sleeping Beauty, the the way it always should have been…

It’s a brief synopsis but perhaps this is because Beauty is the final book in Sarah Pinborough’s trio of fairytale retellings, in which she’s conjured the ‘true’ stories behind the pink, sparkly Disneyfied stories. I’d read, reviewed and loved the previous instalments, Poison (review here) and Charm (review here) and Beauty didn’t disappoint. It has all the wit and irony, the sex appeal and rollicking plot of its predecessors but, this time, is even more inventive with the folktales it reimagines.

In a sense, Beauty is also the richest of the three books. It brings together many threads that have been introduced earlier, presenting origins of characters we’ve already met and blending a number of fairytales to present Sleeping Beauty – my favourite Disney Princess – in a totally different and compelling light. There’s a wide-ranging cast, which allows us a variety of perspectives of the events as they occur. I felt it completed the cycle in really satisfying fashion, playing with the timeline of events in a way that felt perfect for the magical fantasy land in which it’s set.

By now, we should be used to Pinborough’s upfront style, treating these “princesses” as grown-ups rather than little girls and debunking the one-dimensional heroine myth. Here, we also get a range of male characters and links to other failrytales too: Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood and, especially, Beauty and the Beast. I loved the totally unexpected way in which this last tale is incorporated into the Sleeping Beauty story – it’s really original yet also seems to fit perfectly with the no-holds-barred graphic and adult nature of these stories. There are no singing teapots or candlesticks in this castle, although there are some very curious fixtures and fittings down in the basement.

I think the real genius of this book, for me, was to remind me of some of the best and most interesting fairytale interpretations. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast film was one of the first from the studio to have a true male anti-hero and an intellectual, reading heroine who far outstrips him morally but also in brainpower; there are certainly echoes of those ideas here. The girl in red has strong echoes of Angela Carter in the way she is drawn by the howls of a strange creature. And, of course, there are the in-jokes and circular references to Poison and Charm, as the web of the overall story starts to emerge.

I don’t want to say to much more, for fear of revealing what is a fantastic twist but suffice it to say that I think Beauty is my favourite of the three novels, which is really saying something after my enjoyment of books one and two. If you haven’t read these, you really should – witty, sexy, and full of magic and mystery. It’s a winning combination.

Beauty is out now, published by Gollancz.

Kate
@magic_kitten

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