O dreary February! Much as I love winter, this is my least favorite month. Winter is a ragged ruin of its old self. Once-pristine snows are sooty piles of unmelting slush, paired with icy fogs, freezing temperatures, and the occasional "wintry mix." At times it feels like spring-- so close!-- will never arrive to make the cold, wet dirt bloom. But then I notice the rugosa rose by my back door. It's flowered faithfully since the first year I planted it. Every day I see its tiny, hopeful buds, and I can hope for spring because my rose does. Today, I have another hopeful rose in mind. It's in one of my favorite fairy tales, about a cursed prince, a brave girl, and a magical rose that blooms in bleakest winter. Can you guess which tale I mean?
If you thought "Beauty and the Beast," give yourself a rose! I love the story for a number of reasons. To begin with, I'm inspired by Beast's stubborn hope. By all accounts, Beast has been trapped in his enchanted form for a very long time-- a suggestion of centuries, like Sleeping Beauty in her tower (and she got to sleep through it, at least!). In some versions, he was originally cursed because of his arrogance; in others, his once-beautiful face tempted the heart of a fairy's daughter, and he used her cruelly before coldly casting her aside. Whatever the cause, the Beast we meet has long since regretted his sins and learned humility. (In a way, all the really important bits of Beast's transformation into proper Prince material happen before Beauty even meets him.)
Beast has also had to learn patience-- learn it, or go mad-- beause reform alone is not enough to free Beast from the terms of his enchantment. Now that his beautiful outside and horrific inside have switched places, he needs to find a woman and convince her that he's reformed, and worthy of love. Given that the typical female (heck, human) reaction is to run away from a fearsome Beast, he's become reclusive and lonely, maybe even bitter and self-hating. But he hasn't quite given up the hope that somewhere, there's a woman who might learn to love him despite his fearsome flaws. And hope, as we learn, is a powerful thing.
The clear message of "Beauty and the Beast"-- and another reason I love the story-- is that we need to look beyond a person's surface to the true heart beneath. Beast is the obvious example of this (clearly, the author didn't expect many supernatural romance fans in her audience), but it's surprisingly true for Beauty, too. From the very beginning, Beauty is valued more for her honor, bravery, and compassion than for her pretty face. She loves froofy dresses as much as her sisters, but she's the first to roll up her sleeves and cheerfully make the best of it when her family loses everything. When she learns the true price of her miraculous rose, she does not hesitate to take her father's place, even when she's pretty sure it will mean her death. And she stays, even after meeting the terrifying monster to whom she's given her word. Remember also that Beast doesn't want her for her looks in the first place-- he wants a brave and compassionate woman who will choose to be with him of her own will.
Beauty's character is, of course, the main reason I love this fairy tale. I adore strong female protagonists, and unlike many of the classic "princess" tales, Beauty is a doer. She doesn't wait passively for a prince to rescue her on a white horse, or win her in a fight, or steal her like a prize. She rescues him. She demonstrates the courage to stay, and works past her fear of his beastly exterior (and it's clear, she does fear him at first). In the end, she trusts her instincts and chooses the generous and patient man she's come to know, no longer seeing him as fearsome.
Nor is Beauty's "happily ever after" based on a single magical kiss or a midnight dance (seriously, when is that ever a good basis for a lasting relationship?), but on months of learned trust, commitment, and understanding. By the end, Beast's transformation into a handsome prince is almost unnecessary. After all, Beauty gets her fairy-tale ending not because she expected her Beast to change, but because she didn't. As far as I'm concerned, Beauty had her Prince from the moment she said "yes"-- when she accepted her Beast as he was, horns, fangs, and all. What better indication of true love? And Beast's reward for enduring his curse-- for refusing to give up on that last, stubborn bud of hope-- is a brave, compassionate life partner who has seen him at his worst, and still loves him like crazy.
This month's selections are all romances based in some way on the Beauty and the Beast story. (Not surprisingly, it's a favorite of many romance authors, too.) There's a little bit of everything here: historicals, contemporaries, supernaturals (of course!), fantasies, even a few sci fi titles and a western romance. A few (like Robin McKinley's) are pretty faithful to the original material, but most fall more into the "inspired by" category. Some toss in an interesting twist or two: in Victoria Dahl's A Little Bit Wild, for example, the heroine is the one with the beastly personality, and Donna Jo Napoli's Beast is told from the prince's perspective (and set in Persia!). To be clear, except for the titles marked "YA," these are intended for an aduilt audience. A couple have a pretty high spice factor-- if that's not your cuppa, steer clear of the Donna Boyd and Kristina Wright titles.
If you'd like to read the story first, Sur La Lune's Annotated Beauty and the Beast  has the Lang Blue Fairy Book version, as well as some background on the tale's history and alternate versions. If you're interested in reading the original de Villeneuve and de Beaumont versions (also written for an audience of adults, not children), you can find them in Jack Zipes' Beauties, Beasts, and Enchantment: Classic French Fairy Tales in our adult non-fiction section at (398.21 Bea). If you're ready to meet a Beastly hero or three, start here:
Once upon a time...
The Quantum Rose by Catherine Asaro (SF Asaro)
Dark Angel/Lord Carew's Bride by Mary Balogh (contains "Lord Carew's Bride") (PbkRomance Balogh)
Valiant by Holly Black (YA Black)
The Passion by Donna Boyd (Fiction Boyd)
When She Said I Do by Celeste Bradley (PbkRomance Bradley)
Mad about the Earl by Christina Brooke (PbkRomance Brooke)
Firelight by Kristen Callihan (PbkRomance Callihan)
Seven Nights in a Rogue's Bed by Anna Campbell (PbkRomance Campbell)
The Bride Finder by Susan Carroll (Fiction Carroll)
Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase (PbkRomance Chase)
If You Deceive by Kresley Cole (PbkRomance Cole)
Ironskin by Tina Connolly (Fantasy Connolly)
A Little Bit Wild by Victoria Dahl (PbkRomance Dahl)
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson (Fiction Davidson)
One Dance with a Duke by Tessa Dare (PbkRomance Dare)
The Merchant's Daughter by Melanie Dickerson (YA Dickerson)
A Lady's Guide to Improper Behavior by Suzanne Enoch (PbkRomance Enoch)
Beastly by Alex Flinn (YA Flinn)
Stealing Kathryn by Jacquelyn Frank (PbkRomance Frank)
Diablo: The Texans by Georgina Gentry (PbkRomance Gentry)
She Tempts the Duke by Lorraine Heath (PbkRomance Heath)
Spirited by Nancy Holder (YA Holder)
Scandalous Desires by Elizabeth Hoyt (PbkRomance Hoyt)
When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James (PbkRomance James)
Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier (Fantasy Marillier)
Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley (YA McKinley)
Beauty by Robin McKinley (J 398.2 Bea)
The Bride and the Beast by Teresa Medeiros (LP Medeiros)
Beast by Donna Jo Napoli (YA Napoli)
Beauty Dates the Beast by Jessica Sims (PbkRomance Sims)
The Christmas Knight by Michele Sinclair (PbkRomance Sinclair)
Beauty and the Duke by Melody Thomas (PbkRomance Thomas)
Beguiling the Beauty by Sherry Thomas (PbkRomance Thomas)
Lover Awakened by J. R. Ward (PbkRomance Ward)
Tempted by His Kiss by Tracy Anne Warren (PbkRomance Warren)
Beauty by Susan Wilson (Fiction Wilson)
Lustfully Ever After by Kristina Wright, ed. (contains "The Beast Within" by Emerald) (PbkRomance Lustfully)
Eternal Beast by Laura Wright (PbkRomance Wright)