I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on February 3rd, 2015
Genres: Fairy Tale Retelling, Fantasy, Middle Grade
Sarah has always been on the move. Her mother hates the cold, so every few months her parents pack their bags and drag her off after the sun. She’s grown up lonely and longing for magic. She doesn’t know that it’s magic her parents are running from.
When Sarah’s mother walks out on their family, all the strange old magic they have tried to hide from comes rising into their mundane world. Her father begins to change into something wild and beastly, but before his transformation is complete, he takes Sarah to her grandparents—people she has never met, didn’t even know were still alive.
Deep in the forest, in a crumbling ruin of a castle, Sarah begins to untangle the layers of curses affecting her family bloodlines, until she discovers that the curse has carried over to her, too. The day she falls in love for the first time, Sarah will transform into a beast . . . unless she can figure out a way to break the curse forever.
Show me a book with an absolutely stunning cover and tell me it’s a Beauty and the Beast retelling, and that book will go to the TOP of my wishlist. Such was the case with Beastkeeper. This middle grade fairy tale retelling is an absolute delight from start to finish.
What struck me about Beastkeeper right away was that, BOY, Cat Hellisen knows how to write. Her world building and storytelling abilities are just top notch. She creates a setting with so much atmosphere that it just sucks you straight into the story and you never want to leave. Her take on Beauty and the Beast is so imaginative, quirky, and original! Basically, Sarah, the main character comes from a cursed family, unbeknownst to her. The story takes place in the modern day, in our world, but when the curse takes hold of her father, Sarah discovers a magical world hidden within ours. There, there is magic and mystery, witches with curses, talking birds, and mystical beasts. Sarah needs to figure out how to break the curse before it affects her as well!
I loved Sarah right off the bat. When it comes to middle grade, I really love my characters being flawed and stubborn but brave. I could totally sympathize with Sarah for her messed up familial circumstances, but she doesn’t dwell on this for too long. Obviously it affects her, and in subtle ways she shows that she’s just a little girl, but she sets this aside to try to break the curse. She wants life to go back to normal, and she’s not just going to hide away hoping for others to fix it for her. She will do what needs to be done and won’t shy away from adventure.
I also loved that this was quite a dark fantasy, particularly for middle grade. The magical world that Sarah encounters is actually quite scary and creepy. There are deaths and harsh consequences. It’s not a polished pretty Disney fairy tale, but more like what you might expect from the Brothers Grimm. I totally pictured it as a Studio Ghibli animated movie, and no I don’t regret mentioning this in two reviews in a row. In my head, it was absolutely beautiful. And the take on the story is so awesome because it focuses heavily on the best themes: humanity, identity, and love – but more familial love than romantic love. It was so excellently crafted – it sets a high bar for modern fairy tales.
I think the only part that fell a tiny bit flat to me would be the romance. Granted, it’s a middle grade novel, so the fact that there even is a romance is shocking. But I didn’t ship it really hard – and trust me, even in middle grade it’s possible to ship it like burning. Especially when this ties into spoilery events View Spoiler »(that Sarah turns into a beast because she fell in love with Alan) « Hide Spoiler I wasn’t that excited about it. I mean I liked the consequences of the romance (and how this definitely was necessary for the plot), but the romance wasn’t strong enough to justify it in my mind? I guess? Given the romance’s significance, I felt it should have been more developed. I could have grown to ship it hard, but it didn’t happen in this novel.