"A feminist reworking of Beauty and the Beast from a talented fantasy writer."
Well, you had me at that byline. Fairytale retellings are fun (see also - Jane Austen retellings *hearteyes*), and there's always room for a feminist spin, imho. I also looked forward to reading a Beauty and the Beast retelling, not being familiar with the story at all (I know, what can I say?!), so I was pretty much 'come at me with this book!'.
Set in a fairytale Japan, Barefoot on the Wind is filled with vivid and beautiful imagery, that lingers after reading. The world in the book feels tight and contained, entirely appropriate considering the village and inhabitants are as entrapped as the beast, and is heavy with beautiful detail. A setting that feels eery, almost nightmare - but with just enough warmth to wrap the characters up safe. ish.
The characters themselves feel fresh. Hana is not Belle in the traditional, aesthetic sense (I know enough of the story to see that). To begin with, the brief description of her looks, "I was not pretty, or delicate or fine... I was a hard worker, and I was healthy," is just the kind of move away from traditional fairytale tellings that I needed. I've read so many (too many?) fairytales to our kids over the past few years, and the whole beauty = good, ugly = bad/evil, is a massive bee in my bonnet. Hana is obviously beautiful, for so many reasons. Her courage, loyalty and humility, just for starters.
Likewise the beast (not going to give away anything about his looks) is a deserving counterpart, and the slow burn of their relationship is perfectly in keeping with how humble they each are. This has something to do with the pacing of the novel (or vice versa), which was gentler than I have come to expect from YA novels. This was to my preference. The story was gripping enough on it's own terms and didn't take long to finish!
All up, Barefoot on the Wind was a super pleasure to read. Perhaps my enjoyment would have been enhanced had I known the original story prior to reading, but I felt it stood perfectly well on it's own.
Barefoot on the Wind is available now in all good bookstores. Summer reading, y'all.
Review copy kindly supplied by Walker Books.