I’m going to do something a little different with this review and put my summary and thoughts together since, being an audible original, this is a different kind of a book in a way. From what I gather, Beautiful is either an off-shoot of a previous story or an expansion of a previous story by Marillier which retells the classic fairy tale, East of the Sun, West of the Moon. This story features the retelling of that tale as well, in the first part, from the POV of the troll daughter.
Now, if you’re at all familiar with East of the Sun, West of the Moon, you know that the troll daughter is one of the antagonists of the original tale. Obviously, here, the story has been flipped a bit and she’s a much more sympathetic character, and our protagonist. If you’re not familiar with the original story I highly recommend it! It’s a story similar to Cupid and Psyche and Beauty and the Beast so if you like those, you’ll probably love it as well.
Our story starts off with Hulde, a young girl raised in a castle on top of a mountain. There are no other children to play with and her mother is cruel. The servants are all human and she knows her mother is different somehow but she doesn’t know that’s she’s a troll because no one tells her, although the servants cower away from her. One summer a bear named Rune comes to the castle and they become friends, he tells her stories and teaches her to read. There are no mirrors and Hulde becomes a bit obsessed with trying to look at herself, wondering if she’s beautiful like the people in Rune’s stories. After the summer Rune goes away and she’s lonely once more until he returns three years later. This repeats until Hulde is fifteen, on the verge of turning sixteen. The only thing Hulde’s mother ever seems concerned with, regarding Hulde, is her marriage to the prince of the far isles when she turns sixteen, someone Hulde has never even met before. As her sixteenth birthday draws near, Hulde learns the truth about Rune and her arranged marriage and decides to take her destiny into her own hands.
Of all the things I love about this book, most of all, I love Hulde’s character! She very much reminds me of Maia from The Goblin Emperor. Here’s a character who has known nothing but abuse and loneliness their entire life. She could choose to be horrible like her mother, it would be so easy, but time and again she makes the decision to be a better person. She says she has Rune to thank for that, and perhaps that’s true as he was the only one to give her any scrap of affection when she was growing up, but I also think it’s something Hulde had inside her all along. It takes Hulde time to overcome her anxieties, but she starts with that first decision and doesn’t look back (too much). Eventually Hulde is less obsessed with beauty, and bravery, kindness, and wisdom become more defining for her. It’s so very easy to feel for Hulde, because we’ve all had times when we felt like we weren’t good enough, or right enough, or outsiders–times when we were lonely or wanted to be loved.
This is very much a story about self-discovery, which is one of my favorite things. Hulde sets out on a journey, and along the way she learns who she is. It’s a literal journey and a metaphorical one as well. I love how this works on many levels when you sit down to think about it. This story also tells us, that if you choose to do the right thing then then you’ll be repaid when you need it. I think that’s a lovely message and even if it doesn’t always work out that way in real life, it’s still always better to be kind. There is such an current of hopefulness that runs through this story that even when things are going bad, you know they’re somehow going to work out in the end.
After reading several books by Marillier she’s come to be one of my favorite authors, and she’s really done fantastic things with this tale. Of course she’s a master of fairy tale retellings, not to mention how fantastic her prose is, but the direction she’s taken with the story and the themes here is great, how she’s flipped things from the source. If you go into this expecting a straight retelling you may be disappointed because it’s really not, it’s so much more it’s own thing and I love that.
There are other things I’d love to say about this book, but won’t mention because spoilers so, in short, I loved this story and I hope you’ll all read it. Right now it’s only available through Audible, but I do hope a print version comes out eventually because it deserves to be shared with more people than those who have access to Audible. 5/5 stars.