Bryony and Roses
by T. Kingfisher
Bryony and her sisters have come down in the world. Their merchant father died trying to reclaim his fortune and left them to eke out a living in a village far from their home in the city.
But when Bryony is caught in a snowstorm and takes refuge in an abandoned manor, she stumbles into a house full of dark enchantments. Is the Beast that lives there her captor, or a fellow prisoner? Is the house her enemy or her ally? And why are roses blooming out of season in the courtyard?
Armed only with gardening shears and her wits, Bryony must untangle the secrets of the house before she—or the Beast—are swallowed by them.
I’ve mentioned before that Disney’s 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast is my favourite film, so I’m usually extra wary when I pick up a Beauty and the Beast retelling because I don’t want it to be a blatant rehash of that particular film but I still hope to love it just as much.
Luckily, Bryony and Roses is that perfect mixture of a tip of the hat to some of the most famous aspects of the most famous version of this story, and its own thing entirely – all told with T. Kingfisher’s sense of humour.
I previously read Kingfisher’s retelling of The Snow Queen, The Raven and the Reindeer, and loved it, so I had high hopes for this one. In many ways this is the story we know, only in this instance it’s Bryony herself, and not her father, who gets lost, takes refuge in a large house and tries to leave with a rose. The house is inhabited by a beast, who calls himself Beast, and when he discovers Bryony is a gardener he reveals that he has use of her, and Bryony doesn’t have much choice but to stay.
What I loved most about this version of Beauty and the Beast is that Beast is actually pretty charming from the get-go. He and Bryony never sugar coat things – technically he has kidnapped her, and neither of them are particularly happy about that – but Beast isn’t brooding and cold. He yearns for company, and long before anything romantic happens he and Bryony simply become good friends and their banter is wonderful. Bryony never lets him forget that he’s technically her captor and nothing romantic happens between them until Bryony makes the choice to willingly return to the house.
Speaking of the house, it’s enchanted and sentient and the stand-in for the usual group of servants we tend to find in Beauty and the Beast tales. I loved the way Kingfisher wrote House – at times very sweet, at times fairly sinister – and her version of the curse was different enough to feel refreshing in a story that’s been retold so many times.
The star of this novel is definitely Bryony herself, though. Kingfisher excels at writing women who have a good sense of humour, and women who feel so real. Bryony is brave, yes, but not without also being absolutely terrified when she encounters creepy magic, and I loved her relationship with her sisters. Especially Holly who, frankly, deserves a whole book of her own.
If you like Beauty and the Beast then this is a retelling you need to try, just be warned that you may never look at roses in the same way again…