My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The rating may be mediocre but my feelings while reading Sheri S. Tepper’s Beauty were strong. And all over the map. It began promisingly with a likable, young, spunky heroine in a medieval castle. I could practically feel the magic yet to come as I read the first part. During this building up stage, I just knew I was going to love this imagining of what would have happened had Sleeping Beauty avoided falling under the curse on her 16th birthday.
Then she was ripped into the 21st century. A horrifying picture of the middle of the century we are living in. I hated the whole section set in the 21st and 20th centuries (keep in mind the novel was published in 1991). I can’t say exactly why I hated it so much – I’m pretty sure we’re meant to hate it. It wasn’t just the terrible picture of our not-too-distant future it paints. I just wanted to read a fairy tale reimagining, not a morality tale. I thought that once Beauty returned to her own time it would be like the beginning of the novel had been. Wrong. Beauty quickly loses the youth and spunk that made her so likable in the beginning. For good reason but it was like reading the story of two different women.
Not only is Beauty’s tale tragic but it is a tangle of ideas and themes. She goes from her medieval world to the future, back to her world, to a made up world that was created from different mythologies and literature to the world of Faery then to Hell (yep) and just back and forth and all around. UGH! Though there were times I felt like I was getting hit over the head with one message or another it was mostly a maze I didn’t particularly want to be lost in.
There were things I did enjoy about the novel. I loved reading about the history particularly when Beauty recalls what she learned about her own time while in the 2oth century and picturing the fantastic creatures and beings she encounters. I thought the way Tepper connected the stories of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White and the Frog Prince was brilliant making the novel a true epic. But it dragged. There was a point somewhere around the middle I considered giving up because I no longer cared enough about what happened to go on. But I needed to find out what the thing Beauty had inside of her that made all the mess necessary was.