Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Beauty and the Beast: Lost in a Book - Jennifer Donnelly

Title: Beauty in the Beast: Lost in a Book
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Publisher: Disney Press, 2017 (Hardcover)
Length: 341 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy, Fairy Tale
Started: February 4, 2017
Finished: February 7, 2017

From the inside cover:

Smart, bookish Belle, a captive in the Beast's castle, has become accustomed to her new home and has befriended its inhabitants. When she comes upon Nevermore, an enchanted book unlike anything else she has seen in the castle, Belle finds herself pulled into its pages and transported to a world of glamour and intrigue. The adventures Belle has always imagined, the dreams she as forced to give up when she became a prisoner, seem within reach again.

The charming and mysterious characters Belle meets within the pages of Nevermore offer her glamorous conversation, a life of dazzling Parisian luxury, and even a reunion she never thought possible. Here Belle can have everything she has ever wished for. But what about her friends in the Beast's castle? Can Belle trust her new companions inside the pages of Nevermore? Is Nevermore's world even real? Belle must uncover the truth about the book, before she loses herself in it forever.

Anyone that knows me is aware of my near-obsessed fangirl-love for Beauty and the Beast in all forms and incarnations. I have a countdown going on for when the new live-action movie is released in mid-March. When I discovered all the new books being released in conjunction with the new movie, this one caught my eye in particular, mostly because the author is a favourite of mine. Revolution is still a book that captivates me even years after reading it, and the author's foray into Disney Press in recent years has produced The Waterfire Saga. So even though I had my doubts about an original story set in Disney's Beauty and the Beast universe, I figured this author would be the best bet to pull it off. Thankfully I wasn't disappointed.

In terms of the timeline, Lost in a Book picks up just after the Beast rescues Belle from the pack of wolves in the forest. Love and Death personified as sisters are playing chess while watching the pair interact after said events and betting on the outcome of their relationship. Death of course thinks the curse will play out without salvation, whereas Love believes Belle will break the curse. Since Death hates to lose, she sneaks an enchanted book called Nevermore into the Beast's library that he has just gifted to Belle, in the hopes that it will ensnare her and prevent the curse from being broken. Belle discovers the book while cleaning the library and discovers that it leads to a realm ruled by the Comtesse du Terre de la Morte (literally Countess of the Land of the Dead...I don't know why that wasn't a big red flag in her brain). The countess offers her opportunities to socialize with Parisian nobles and claims she will plan for Belle to study at universities and travel, preying on her need for escapism when relations within the Beast's castle grow awkward and lonely. Will Belle fall victim to Death's plan to entrap her within Nevermore, or will she turn around and start taking charge of her own story?

First off, the good stuff. In terms of the story itself it was quite engrossing, and having the prologue revolve around Love and Death was the prefect way to draw readers in. The world of Nevermore, especially when the enchantment wears off, gave me a strangely creepy but oddly satisfying Wizard of Oz/Return to Oz type of vibe to it, maybe it was the inclusion of the marionettes and the automatons. It doesn't rehash too much of the original Disney plot that most people are familiar with, and when it did it was via flashbacks to flesh out more of the relationships that center around the incident. So this story does a good job of actually presenting new and original content even though it's set in the same universe we're all familiar with. The characters are obviously based on the new movie (one drawback to reading a movie-related adaptation before the actual movie is released), the Beast is more subdued and angsty, Chip comes off as slightly older than in the first film, Mrs. Potts is still maternal but less of a grandmother type, Plumette is the feather-duster character, Lumiere is less of a playboy romantic, Cogsworth is more of your stereotypical older army fellow in this adaptation, and Belle comes off (at least to me) as slightly younger/naive and less confident than in the original film. The relationships between the characters are well done here, you see the objects interacting with Belle and each other, and much more between the Beast and everyone else, which was nice to see. The themes of friendship and love were nicely explored, and the new characters were genuinely entertaining as well.

On to my only beef with this book: I found it hard to believe that Belle, being as smart as she is, fell for Death's trick and got herself trapped in Nevermore. There were so many hints that a seasoned reader such as Belle would have picked up on: the countess' title, that she always dresses in black, she's cold to the touch, that she kept encouraging Belle to eat things and got visibly miffed when she refused, that she was warned on two occasions by minions of Love not to eat anything in Nevermore and ignored them, that she knew it was too good to be true and is aware that the realm is enchanted, and each time she returns from the book it becomes harder to do so. I just had a hard time believing Belle would ignore all those red flags (the Persephone and Hades references were practically smacking you in the face) regardless of her slightly depressed mental state. Granted, Belle had to fall for it one way or another or there'd be no story, but it's still something I have a hard time believing based on her character.

I thoroughly enjoyed this foray into the Beauty and the Beast universe. It was well-written, entertaining, and builds well on the original. Any fan wanting a tidbit to hold you over until the movie comes out should definitely pick this up.

Thoughts on the cover:
So. Stinking. Pretty. The blue, white, and gold colour scheme is really pleasing, but I would've appreciated the logo and title to both be at the top rather than clutter up the bottom of the image

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