Heather Rose Jones’ 2022 The Language of Roses is a stand-alone fantasy novella retelling of Beauty and the Beast.
Anton takes refuge from a storm at the manor of Bettencourt. It’s clearly an enchanted place with invisible overlords, so Anton is on his guard … but not sufficiently so. Anton foolishly plucks a rose as he tries to slip off the estate. This egregious sin enrages the Fée (Fae).
The overlords will let Anton leave only if he sends one of his three daughters to serve in the manor.
Once home, he sends his most responsible daughter, Alys, to the manor. She will serve Lady Ice, a woman slowly turning to stone, and Lord Beast.
“Lady Ice” is Lady Grace, while “Lord Beast” is her brother Lord Philippe. Years ago the pair were cursed by the fairy Peronelle, who quite reasonably suspected that arrogant, cruel Philippe had murdered Peronelle’s daughter Eglantine and that Grace had done nothing to prevent this. The fairy is wrong on some important points, but her curse is working exactly as intended. It has almost run its course. Once it does, the siblings will be dead.
There is an easy escape from the curse: some woman must fall in love with Philippe. This seems improbable. The siblings believe that any woman who knew the truth could not possibly love Philippe; hence they inveigle women into servitude and keep them ignorant.
That will not be sufficient. Even before he began slowly transforming into a beast, Phillipe was an unlovable brute. Also, Alys has never had any romantic interest in any man.
If only there were an alternative way to escape the curse.
Yes, this is the third review in a row of a book in which romance plays a significant role (and the first of two mysteries). Also another book featuring terrible parenting.
(Anton doesn’t just pluck a rose while slipping away from hosts he knows are Fair Folk, he’s surprisingly OK with dispatching Alys to serve in his stead.)
Nor is this the only bad parenting on display. Terrible parenting is a rich source of plot, right up there with obliviously unrepentant bullies who think they’re the protagonist of the fantasy in which they feature.
This novel is a variation on a familiar story. It’s not a variation that you might expect. Does Phillipe eventually repent of being a vicious, entitled bully and turn into a suitable mate for Alys? Not so! Another way out? Perhaps if Alys were to fall in love with Lady Grace … would that do the trick? Perhaps it would have worked, but that’s not the solution that Jones hits on.
Retelling folk tales runs the risk of, well, retelling folk tales. New words but the same essential elements. Jones’ version keeps enough of the well-known plot to be familiar, while taking the narrative on an unexpected tangent. I was suitably surprised.
This is the third Jones novel that I’ve read. This one leans more overtly fantastic than the two Alpennia novels; however the writing and the characterization remain as skillful as ever. This is a book well worth your attention.
The Language of Roses is available here (Amazon US)