[Book Review] The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty's Prince
5 out of 5 stars
Author Serena Valentino has taken the world by storm with her best-selling Disney Villains novels published by Disney Press. Not only do Valentino’s stories give readers the opportunity to explore villains they know and love, readers are also introduced to new characters that operate behind the scenes of classic Disney plots, giving tales-as-old-as-time a bewitching new twist.
The books in the series are as follows and are best enjoyed if read in this order:
1. Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen
2. The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty’s Prince
3. Poor Unfortunate Soul: A Tale of the Sea Witch
4. Mistress of All Evil: A Tale of the Dark Fairy
5. Mother Knows Best: A Tale of the Old Witch; and
6. The Odd Sisters: A Tale of Three Witches
With the long-awaited release of The Odd Sisters: A Tale of Three Witches – the first of Valentino’s characters to have a book of their own – set to hit shelves this summer, I decided to re-read and review Books 1-4. (See my book review of Fairest of All here and my ARC review of Mother Knows Besthere.) If that’s not a countdown celebration, I don’t know what is.
Please note: this is NOT an advanced reader review so it may contain SPOILERS. Proceed at your own risk.
The second novel in the Villains series – The Beast Within – is menacing and alive in its account of Disney’s Beast from the animated film Beauty and the Beast. Valentino takes a deeper dive into the Prince’s story, illustrating his arrogance and pride, and showing us just how aware he was of his privileged station in life. While Valentino’s Prince does not really shed any new light on the original character, it is his interactions with others in the story, as well as his famous transformation, physical and otherwise, that drives this tale of beastliness and beauty.
Those three eerily charming Odd Sisters are quick to make an appearance in the Prince’s tale, setting the scene for – and reminding us of the rules of – the unnerving enchantment bestowed upon the Prince and his castle. This prelude clearly and cleverly puts the tale as old as time in the heart of Valentinoland. We approach the famous fairytale with intrigue and fear; it is shrouded in dark magic from the very beginning.
We are introduced to a great number of characters – including Circe, Tulip, Nanny and the theatrical Maestro – while getting to know a little more about our original film favorites, such as Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts, before they became household items. This review would not be complete without also welcoming that orange, black and white spy that creeps onto the pages and into our hearts.
Special applause goes to Valentino for developing our original favorites in a way that is true to their characters as we know them from the film. Cogsworth is renowned for being organized and reliable; Mrs. Potts has a way with people; and Lumiere is generally very poetic, especially when he speaks of love. I could not help but smile when I read these types of descriptors. I felt like I was reminiscing with old friends while learning more about them over a hot cuppa.
The transformations in the story are countless; the book could be triple the length just exploring each of them in a bit more detail! From Circe’s transformation from pig farmer’s daughter to enchantress, the evolution of the Prince’s relationships with Circe, Tulip and [SPOILER] Gaston, to the Beast’s physical transformation, there is never a dull moment.
The transformation theme of the story is also executed differently to Fairest of All. The Prince’s vanity, unlike the Queen’s vanity in Fairest of All, manifests from overconfidence rather than insecurity. The Prince has taken everything for granted, whereas the Queen fears the worst at all times. What is similar – and just as captivating in both books one and two – is the juxtaposition of parties and celebration with the protagonists’ inner tension and turmoil. (I love the images Valentino creates in Beast of parties and women of all descriptions with their fans – it reminded me of the ballroom scenes in The Man in the Iron Mask and Casanova.) This storytelling method gives the characters a complexity that is lacking in the Disney films. A whole new world indeed.
There is a lot to unpack in this book, and although I did feel a bit rushed through some of the story’s events, I give it five stars because it does a great job balancing continuity with creativity. Bonus points go to the Beast appearing on the dust cover and the Prince appearing “within.” We all know who the real Beast is here.