During a chance summer shower, an English country parson takes refuge in a country house. The house seems deserted, yet the table is laid with a sumptuous banquet such as the parson has not seen since before war rationing.
Unnerved by the uncanny house, he flees, but stops to pluck a single perfect rose from the garden for his daughter – only for the master of the house to appear, breathing fire with rage. Literally.
At first, the parson can’t stand this dragon-man. But slowly, he begins to feel the injustice of the curse that holds the dragon captive. What can break this vengeful curse?
Another Beauty and the Beast retelling! This is one of my favorite fairy tales and I’m always looking for fresh takes on it so was quite happy when I discovered this book.
Briarley is definitely a unique take on Beauty and the Beast and yet it feels familiar enough for fans of the original. This takes place in WWII ear England. German forces are bombing London and the countryside, while not in the immediate line of fire, doesn’t remain unaffected from the war. The story, while set in a different time period, starts off on a rather familiar foot with the father of Rose wandering onto a mysterious old estate seeking shelter from a storm. He steals a rose on his way out and anger the beast that lives there. This has the invisible servants, the curse of needing to love and be loved in return, and, of course, romance. But there are also many differences which kept things interesting. The beast here is a dragon, he openly talks about the curse with the parson, and Rose is not the romantic interest here–the parson is!
Given that this is a retelling, I do wonder at some of the author’s choices in deviation–not in a bad way but just wonder what they mean to the author and why they made those decisions. For instance, why is this set during WWII? While the setting does have one very immediate impact on the story, this really could have been set during any period so I’m curious why the author went in this direction. Do they just really love this era and wanted to write about it? Is there something about this era that the author wanted to point out? I usually don’t find myself thinking about these things while reading but this one really peaked my curiosity for some reason. I do love the choice here, we don’t see many fantasy novels taking place in this period (with maybe one very famous exception) so it was nice for a change. Also, in regards to the setting, the estate is sort of ‘out of time’ in some ways since both Briarley–our cursed dragon beast– and the invisible servants were originally living in the 1840’s and have been under this curse nearly 100 years. So there’s an interesting Victorian feel to parts of the story.
Characters are always the most important thing for me in a story and I thought they were very well written here. Briarley was appropriately grumpy and dragon-esque. His reasons for being so grumpy are understandable. The beast’s struggle with the curse is also a struggle with acceptance of himself. The friendly parson is someone that is a perfect balance for the beast. He’s patient and he’s kind and he is someone who cares about doing the right thing. He won’t abandon Briarley and the servants to their curse if there’s some way he can help end it. I love how their friendship develops over the course of the story and then develops into something more. I also loved the servants! They have good roles to play in this story as well.
Overall, I loved the author’s take on this familiar tale–the setting was interesting and the characters were well written. It was, perhaps, a bit predictable but I think that’s a matter of course for a retelling. 4/5 stars.