Bryony and Roses: Bryony and the Beast

Bryony And Roses Kindle Edition by T. KingfisherBryony and Roses by T. KingfisherBryony and Roses by T. Kingfisher

Seventeen year old Bryony and her sisters, Holly and Iris (I’m sensing a horticultural theme here) were the daughters of a wealthy merchant who lost his fortune through risky investments three years earlier. They moved to the remote village of Lostfarthing, where the now-orphaned sisters are barely scraping by. Bryony, a dedicated and enthusiastic gardener, hears about some particularly hardy rutabaga seeds available in a nearby village, and sets off to get some. Unfortunately, on the way back she’s caught in a spring blizzard. She and her pony are nearly frozen when they come across an impossible road that leads to an equally improbable manor house in the forest. In the manor house is magically provided food, a lovely rose in a vase … and, of course, a Beast.

For about the first half of Bryony and Roses (2015), this novel tracks the traditional tale of Beauty and the Beast fairly closely. The menacing Beast insists that Bryony stay with him (he does allow her a quick trip home to say goodbye to her sisters and bring whatever she wants back to the mansion; Bryony chooses to load her pony down with seedlings and plants); he and the magical house treat Bryony well, even if the house does present her with fancier dresses than she really wants to wear; and the Beast asks her to marry him each evening.

It’s a charming retelling, enlivened by Bryony’s sarcastic narrative voice and her banter with the Beast. There are some nice additions to the story, like knowledgeable tidbits about gardening, and how extremely annoying rose plants can be. As the story progresses, there are more intriguing twists on the familiar tale: some dark powers exhibited by the magical house, a strange man who visits Bryony’s dreams, roses that chokingly twist around a birch tree in the courtyard and send out tendrils to invade Bryony’s garden, alarming footsteps in Bryony’s bedroom at night.

At different times Bryony and Roses reminded me quite strongly of both of Robin McKinley‘s Beauty and the Beast retellings, Rose Daughter (which T. Kingfisher credits as having inspired this novel, though I saw that connection mostly in the ending) and Beauty. I frequently saw echoes of McKinley’s style of writing:

“They’ve been there a long time,” she said.

 

“Yes,” said the Beast, “a long time.” The air made a little space around his words, in a way that was not entirely pleasant, and Bryony did not say anything more until they had left the courtyard.

In fairness, though, I doubt McKinley would have compared sleeping in an excessively pink bedroom to finding oneself in a uterus (“except with more flowers”) or directly considered the, ahem, practical difficulties of being married to a Beast.

Iris would have turned purple. Holly would have laughed and embarked on a very dirty-minded discussion of what those practical difficulties were likely to entail.

Kingfisher does eventually more develop a distinct take on the Beauty and the Beast legend. It involves a fair amount of info-dumping in the final chapters, but I was relieved to actually get an explanation that made sense … unlike Rose Daughter. There’s also an unexpected element of horror that surfaces toward the end, brief but quite dark.

While Bryony and Roses is a fairly traditional retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and I’d recommend it mostly to readers who are enthusiastic about fairy tale retellings, its slyly witty tone, appealing characters, and occasional twists and turns were enough to keep me invested in this engaging version of the story.

Published in 2015. Bryony and her sisters have come down in the world. Their merchant father died trying to reclaim his fortune and left them to eke out a living in a village far from their home in the city. But when Bryony is caught in a snowstorm and takes refuge in an abandoned manor, she stumbles into a house full of dark enchantments. Is the Beast that lives there her captor, or a fellow prisoner? Is the house her enemy or her ally? And why are roses blooming out of season in the courtyard? Armed only with gardening shears and her wits, Bryony must untangle the secrets of the house before she—or the Beast—are swallowed by them.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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4 comments

  1. This certainly sounds like something worth checking out since I do like fairy tale retellings.

  2. I remember reading this one. I can’t believe I let the review slip through.

    Anyway, I agree with you Tadiana – a lot of fun for those of us that enjoy fairy tales retold.

    And because of that I’d give it a 5.

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