One of the titles I was looking forward to the most this summer was The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty’s Prince by Serena Valentino (July 22, 2014). A follow-up to her acclaimed Fairest of All which chronicled the Evil Queen’s (from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) descent into madness, Beast tackles what I have long considered my favorite Disney animated film of all time, Beauty and the Beast.
While the book starts and ends concurrent with the film, it spends a great deal of its time in flashbacks, giving additional insight into the pre-cursed life of The Prince and how he arrived to become what the film finds him as, post-prologue. Even the prologue itself is greatly expanded, with Valentino offering rich, imaginative details behind the Enchantress and what her motives (and those of her sisters as it turns out to be) for the curse are, attempting to simultaneously punish The Prince for his past deeds while also offering him the chance of redemption, slight as that opportunity may be.
The Prince’s relationship with the Enchantress isn’t the only one explored in the book, however. Valentino defines the relationships The Prince has with other characters, both from the film as well as part of her own lore, including a chance encounter with a particular woman whom he clearly has zero interest in passing the time with. Although Valentino writes her fairy tales with a self awareness that other such tales exist, The Beast Within takes it one step farther, with fairy tale worlds colliding, making them just as real as The Prince’s.
I’m always hesitant when someone attempts to re-imagine one of my all time favorites, but Valentino quite rises to the task with her engaging, imaginative prose. I did get the impression that the final scenes with the battle between Gaston and The Beast felt a bit rushed, but in all fairness, while Valentino does share some of what happens on screen, her aim is to share elements that the audience did not see and she still pulls that off comfortably.
Arguably the best compliment I can pay The Beast Within is that immediately upon completing it, I was compelled to purchase the Kindle edition of Valentino’s earlier title, Fairest of All, which I haven’t read before (and found it just as compelling). Valentino is currently working on giving Ursula from The Little Mermaid the same treatment and has even recently provided a taste of work-in-progress online and I, for one, eagerly await its release.