Saturday, March 21, 2015

Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen

Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen
Published:  September 2, 2014
Synopsis from Goodreads: 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.

This was a strange book and I'm pretty sure I didn't like it. But at the same time, some of the writing was really wonderful. I'm not even entirely sure why I didn't like it. For the most part it just left me confused. Let me try to explain:

First, let's go through what I liked about the book. For starters, the cover art is amazing. I love the peachy sunset background with the silhouettes like paper cutouts. It's really unique and unlike any other cover I've seen. That's initially what drew me towards the book. Next, Cat Hellisen's writing really is good. The way she describes things is perfect for the fairytale setting. It's whimsical at times and dark at other times
"And that is where the storytellers write their own sugary versions of the truth. A pack of lies until they read 'The End.' But no story ever comes to an end, at least not one so neat. There are voices silenced, characters erased at the storyteller's whim. They do not tell you what happens when the children have eaten their way through the witch's treasures and face another starveling winter, when the glass slipper no longer fits the crone's swollen foot, when the beauty doesn't fall in love with her beastly prince."
- Raven, pg 85
But, unfortunately, that's just about where my liking for this book ended. For a book that's only 197 pages, a lot happened and I think that's sort of where this book fell short. Nothing was really as developed as it should have been. Particularly the characters. I never really connected with the main character, Sarah, even though the book was written in first person from her point of view. I didn't really find her likeable but I think part of that has to do with the fact that for a while, I had no idea how old she was supposed to be. If I knew she was only twelve from the beginning instead of figuring that out about a eighty pages in, I might have been more okay with her childishness.

The first thing that really threw me off with this book was the way it was represented. I bought it out of the teen department of Barnes and Noble and everywhere I read before I actually purchased it presented it as a YA novel. With that in mind, I was expecting to read a young adult novel. However, it didn't read that way at all. In fact, most of the time, it reminded me of way Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu - a middle grade retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" - was written except that I enjoyed Breadcrumbs way, way more than I enjoyed this. But even if I mentally switched to pretending Beastkeeper was actually a middle grade book, some of the themes and descriptions just got so dark that they probably wouldn't sit well with the average middle grade reader. At the same time, I feel like the average young adult reader - readers of John Green, Sarah J. Maas, Jodi Lynn Andersen, etc. - wouldn't get much out of it either. So what, that just leaves adults? Probably not. It's like the book just couldn't make up its mind about what it wanted to be and who its target audience was. And that bugged me the entire time I was reading.

The whole story is meant to be a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, one of my favorite fairy tales and I don't mean just the Disney version. This is why I wanted to read it to begin with. Obviously, there has to be a love story worked in there somewhere. Now, the whole 'beast' aspect has to do with a curse on Sarah's family - and it is a sincerely detailed curse with side effects that have side effects. Mainly, according to the curse, the day Sarah falls in love, she'll turn into a beast. (That's not a spoiler - it says that on the dust jacket.) I already mentioned Sarah was twelve (middle grade!) though she might have turned thirteen, I don't quite remember. So, when she falls in love with Alan who is an enchanted boy who might be hundreds of years old and drinks whiskey (YA!), it didn't really sit well with me. Particularly because even though Sarah had met him a few times, her falling in love with him almost literally happened like a light switch. One moment not in love, next moment in love. Not my cup of tea. Also, there was no clear antagonist. Actually, you can argue that there were two but they weren't really bad, they just made mistakes - although that might have been the author's point. However, if Helisen's point was that people make mistakes sometimes and sometimes those mistakes have dire consequences, then the characters should have been more fleshed out to evoke more emotion in readers. I couldn't find it in myself to forgive either of the two semi-antagonists-who-aren't-really-antagonists even when they repented because I just thought what they did was dumb. As for the ending, I didn't like it. I might have liked it if the details of the curse were more straight forward and if I actually liked any of the characters, but I didn't so the ending was 'meh' for me at best.

All in all, I really didn't enjoy this book. I'm giving it a rating of 3 out of 5 just because Cat Helisen really is a great user of the words, this just wasn't a great representation of what she could do. Has anyone else read this? Do let me know your thoughts if you did.

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