Scarlet in the Snow: A unique and interesting take on Beauty and the Beast

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Scarlet in the Snow Paperback – October 1, 2013 by Sophie Masson Scarlet in the Snow by Sophie Masson fantasy book reviewsScarlet in the Snow by Sophie Masson

Sophie Masson‘s unofficial fairy tale trilogy is linked only by the presence of feya (powerful fairies) and certain geographical locations, which hint that Scarlet in the Snow, Moonlight & Ashes, and The Crystal Heart all exist in the same world, though none of the stories or characters ever interact.

Each one is based on a traditional fairy tale, with Scarlet in the Snow providing some interesting twists on the story of Beauty and the Beast. What if Beauty’s father was dead and it was instead her mother who was struggling to make ends meet? What if Beauty actually investigated the Beast’s identity, in an attempt to find out who he was before the spell was cast? What the Beast had a companion, an old feya woman who was as cryptic as she was helpful? And what if halfway through the love story, Beauty had to leave the enchanted castle and go out into the world on a quest of her own?

Yeah, at about the halfway mark the story becomes less “Beauty and the Beast” and more “East O’ the Sun and West O’ the Moon”, which does wonders in deepening the story and making our heroine more proactive. Heck, Masson even throws in a character that reminded me deeply of Baba Yaga, which makes sense, considering this retelling of the story is set in a fictional version of Russia.

Natasha is on her way back from delivering one of her mother’s portrait commissions when she’s caught in a terrible blizzard. Finding shelter from the storm in a strange mansion, she carefully explores the place, noticing empty frames on every wall. Out in the wintry garden she spots one red rose in bloom, but after being unable to resist touching it, finds herself the prisoner of a terrible Beast.

Sophie Masson fills her story with all sorts of intriguing details that bring new perspective to the familiar fairy tale: werewolves, art galleries, witches, glass rooms, and roses both white and red. It’s a bit of a mishmash at times, but Masson keeps control of the plot and manages to throw in some genuinely clever twists along the way.

Unfortunately, the love connection between Natasha and Ivan isn’t particularly genuine: they spend only a few hours together before Natasha is declaring her love for him, which is enough to spur her on a dangerous adventure to win him back. Perhaps if she had simply acted out of friendship, and left the romance to the happily-ever-after, it would have worked a bit better?

With that exception, I really enjoyed reading Scarlet in the Snow and consider it the best of the three fairy tale-themed books. Masson’s prose is always lovely to read, with just the right amount of descriptive detail and poetic turns-of-phrase.

Scarlet in Snow — (2013) Publisher: Masson delves into the depths of two ancient Russian fairy tales and brings to life the beguiling adventure of Natasha, the rose-stealer, and the Beast, its protector. When Natasha is forced to take shelter from a sudden blizzard, she is lucky to see a mansion looming out of the snow. Inside, it is beautiful: the fire lit, the table set, but mysteriously enough there is no one there. On the walls, instead of paintings, sit empty frames. In the garden, she finds one perfect red rose about to bloom, a vivid splash of scarlet against the snow. Dreamily she reaches out a hand, only to have the master of the house appear—a terrifying, gigantic creature who looks like a cross between a bear and a man—and demand vengeance on her for taking his rose. So begins an extraordinary adventure that will see Natasha plunged deep into the heart of a mystery. She begins to realize she has stumbled onto a great tragedy—a spell of revenge laid on the young man the Beast once was, devised by a powerful sorcerer. But even if she can break the spell, the Beast she has now come to love will be snatched from her. Natasha will have a long journey, and many ordeals, ahead of her before there can be a happy ending.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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