January 5, 2015

Fairy Tale Book Review: Alex Flinn's Beastly and Bewitching Books, By Brita Long


I first discovered author Alex Flinn five years ago, when I was home for the summer between college graduation and my first job in France. I borrowed her novel Beastly from the library, and I’ve been a fan of her retold fairy tales ever since.

Beastly is a tale as old as time: an arrogant young man pisses of the wrong person, gets turned into a beast, and must find a young woman to love him and break the spell. But instead of the well-known setting of a magical France, Beastly takes place in modern-day New York City.

Kyle has everything: money, good looks, popularity, and a rich, hot, equally-popular girlfriend. But when he chooses to prank an eccentric classmate, she turns him into a hairy beast, claws and all. He has two years to find a girl to love him despite his monstrous appearance—a girl whom he loves in return—or else the curse will be permanent.

At the beginning of the book, I felt like Kyle had it coming. He totally deserved potentially a lifetime of seclusion. But as the story progresses and he matures and gains empathy for others, I couldn’t help becoming more sympathetic to his plight. Beastly is not just a retold fairy tale, but a realistic coming-of-age story (magic aside).

I also loved the supporting characters. Kendra is a fun and quirky witch, serving out her own punishment for youthful transgressions. As Kyle’s blind tutor, Will’s positive influence helps Kyle in his personal growth. In an attempt to avoid spoilers, I won’t name the love interest, but I will say I related to her and her love of both roses and literature.

Aside from well-developed characters, Flinn’s greatest talent is how she blends magic and modernity. For example, throughout the book, Kyle joins a chat room with other victims of transformative spells. The netspeak and confusing conversations accurately portray real chat rooms. These conversations allude to several other fairy tales, including “The Frog Prince” and “The Little Mermaid.”

At my new local library, I discovered Beastly’s companion novel, Bewitching. I loved Kendra in the original, so I was eager to read more about her life. The narrative style of Bewitching differs greatly from that of Beastly. Rather than sticking to a single point-of-view like in Beastly, Bewitching alternates between Kendra’s POV and the POVs of three other retold fairy tale characters. The main story takes place chronologically when Beastly ends, an adapted “Cinderella” from the stepsister’s perspective.

Flinn’s version of “Cinderella” is completely different than any I have read before, and the main characters all demonstrate ambiguous morals.

As a witch, Kendra lives much longer than typical humans, so the book starts with her explanation that the same witch is often involved multiple fairy tales. The POV changes back and forth between Kendra, the “ugly stepsister” Emma, and two other people Kendra tries to help, a French prince and a mermaid. While the retellings of “The Princess and the Pea” and “The Little Mermaid” are brief interludes, I love how Flinn weaves together actual historical stories with Kendra’s magical interventions—the mermaid rescues a passenger from the Titanic.

Have you read any of Alex Flinn’s fairy tales? What do you think of modern fairy tale adaptations? Let me know in the comments!

Brita Long is a francophile feminist living out her own fairy tale with her husband in Ohio. You can find her online at bellebrita.com, where she writes about her faith, books, and her life as a southern belle in the Midwest.
Brita Long

2 comments

  1. Because they are powerful stories, I think fairy tales can be effectively told in about any kind of genre, so I'm always up for different kinds of retellings. It's fun to see what different writers do with them.

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  2. Thanks for the review. There's a final Kendra book, Mirrored, coming out in September.

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