Robin McKinley's Beauty captures the essence of the "Beauty and the Beast" tale and turns it into something more, bringing depth and realism to the story and challenging the reader's notion of a fairy tale romance. Though Beauty is traditionally depicted as an idealized paragon of loveliness and grace, McKinley's Beauty is an awkward, bookish teen, intelligent but not entirely comfortable in her own skin and certain that she is the plainest girl in the family. This low self-esteem poses a challenge for Beauty, who must overcome her apprehensions before she can accept the Beast's proposal and attain her happily ever after.
McKinley's Beauty challenges the notion of love arising from a sense obligation or pity towards the Beast. Beauty joins the Beast of her own free will, and is regarded as an equal, no coercion or victimization marring their relationship. The Beast sends dreams to alleviate the merchant's worries and provides the family with gifts, both practical and luxurious, although these are not in exchange for Beauty. Though the physical manifestation of the Beast is alarming, Beauty recognizes his innate humanity. Emotionally and intellectually charged, theirs is a relationship between equals that results from a mutual recognition of one another's strengths and flaws.
Like many of the best fairy tales, McKinley's retelling draws the reader into a world where the possibility of magic seems entirely plausible. Beauty's conviction and determination make her a worthy fantasy heroine, her unconventional personality and stalwart sense of honour making for a compelling change from the usual damsel in distress.
"A captivating novel." -- ALA Booklist
"A splendid story." -- Publishers Weekly