Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: Roses by G.R. Mannering

Release date: November 6, 2013
Author info: Website | Twitter | Facebook
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 311
Source: Received via publisher for review
Buy the book: Barnes & Noble | Amazon
As the gates clicked shut behind them, she heard the distant roar of a beast.

She bears no name. Her silvery appearance is freakish to the numerous inhabitants of Sago, the cosmopolitan capital of Pevorocco in a fantasy realm. With her mother vanishing at the instance of her birth, she is sent to live with the cruel, rich Ma Dane, where she is punished daily for something, though she knows not what. Tauntingly named Beauty, she flees Sago in a violent uprising that sets out to massacre all Magics and journeys to the furthest point of the country.

But Beauty cannot hide in the grassy Hillands forever. Before long, the State officials find her and threaten to take her back to war-torn Sago where death surely awaits. In a midnight blizzard she escapes them, running into a deep, enchanted forest to a great and terrible beast who will bargain for her life.

But can Beauty accept Beast? Eternity is a long time.
What an interesting book! When my beloved Robin McKinley's book Beauty was mentioned in reference to Roses, I knew I had to read it--and I had a certain kind of expectation for it. Roses definitely lived up to that expectation, and while it may not be on par with Robin McKinley (that woman is a god to me, so it'd be quite the feat to be anywhere close to her in my mind!), it was a lushly imagined and magically retold version of Beauty and the Beast.

The approach in making "Beauty" someone who is not traditionally beautiful, as in Roses, is an interesting one. Though some characters are able to see her beauty, especially as she gets older, it is a very different experience to see Beauty develop as someone who is alienated from others because of her appearance. She grows up curiously, a quiet girl who only connects with horses and her foster father who takes care of them. You see her strength in her resistance to those who would pull her down for being different and her ability to thrive where she is desperately unwanted. Even so, Beauty is a rather distant heroine who I never felt very connected to.

Roses' world is a world filled with problems. There are those who are born ordinary, those born with magical abilities, Magic Bloods, and those who are Magic Beings. Those with and without magic are constantly at odds, and when the novel starts, Pevorocco is at a tentative peace, though citizens of The Neighbor are fighting--and that war threatens to spill into Pevorocco. The world is unveiled very slowly, almost too slowly, and it's hard to get a completely solid grip on what's going on, even as the novel is ending. Even so, it's a world I'd like to know better. The scenes directly at the beginning of each part were easily the most revelatory of the whole book, and those are very well placed for effectiveness. They worked really well to unveil the mysteries of the story slowly, allowing you to put each puzzle piece in place one at a time.

And in general, the writing was excellent. Mannering's prose fits the book perfectly, with a kind of distance that feels very intentional and keeps the reader right where they should be. It felt very much like a fairy tale. I did find, though, a few glaring mistakes that I am really unsure how they could have gotten by someone editing, the biggest being the use of "accept" instead of "except" at one point and shining being spelled as "shinning" (unless that's something people do?) multiple times. Little, but bothersome to me.

What's interesting about Roses, though, is that it doesn't incorporate most of the Beauty and the Beast story into the narration until more than halfway through. At first I thought it was kind of odd, but I actually liked that the focus was on how Beauty was raised, and how that affected the kind of person she becomes. I mean, if someone hadn't loved her despite her odd appearance, would she have been able to love the Beast in spite of his? It makes her past more important and makes you wonder how the story could have differed.

And oh, the design of the book is GORGEOUS. There are roses all over the place and the fonts are just beautiful. It's a lovely book in person.

I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a series, but Roses is definitely a book I'd like to see a sequel to. If not, it's still an utterly lovely and poetic retelling of Beauty and the Beast that takes a thought-provoking and imaginative look at the classic tale.

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