Robin McKinley tells the traditional tale of Beauty and the Beast once again in this novel, published twenty years after her first retelling, Beauty. This book has a very different feel from the previous one; the magic is much more integral to the story, and has a more mystical, less fairy-tale quality. It is not offensively mystical, though; in most of McKinley’s books (there are exceptions), the mystical fairy-tale magic simply exists in and shapes the characters’ world.
McKinley still stays true to the original tale, with one startling difference at the end, which may or may not shock or frustrate readers. The central element of the story is the roses — their appearance, scent, beauty, color — and McKinley crafts her rose imagery remarkably well, with lavish descriptions as well as subtle metaphors tying back to this central image. Through this she again demonstrates her significant talent as an author.
Morally the book is average; it lacks a specific moral focus, but is not offensive in any way. As with Beauty, and perhaps even more so, considering the density of the prose, the book is appropriate and worthwhile reading for teens and adults both, in spite of its YA target audience.