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“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.
Book: “Beautiful” by Juliet Marillier
Publishing Info: Audible Studies, May 2019
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description: Beautiful is in three parts. Part one follows the pattern of the fairy tale, though the central character is not the white bear prince or the intrepid young woman who travels east of the sun and west of the moon to save him from a curse. Our narrator, whom I named Hulde, only had a bit-part in that original story. The novel-length version takes Hulde way out of her comfort zone as she heads off into the unknown world beyond the glass mountain, to find out what it means to make your own story.
Review: Well, we’ve finally come to the end of my “Monthly Marillier” series! It’s been about a year and a half since I started it, which just speaks to how many books this author has written. Of course, I’ll add to this series whenever she releases new books (right now we seem to be in a bit of a dry spell, as she’s mentioned on her blog that she’s still pitching book ideas to her publisher for her next title). I’ve saved this one for last because it’s probably the most inaccessible of her books, being only available as an audiobook through Audible. Hence, it’s one of the few I hadn’t read before this re-read. Let’s dive in!
We’ve all heard the story before: that of the girl, the polar bear, a dreadful curse and the troll Queen behind it all. This is not that story. Instead, this is Hulde’s tale, that of the troll princess who thought the prince was meant for her. Only to discover his true love was on a mission to rescue him from a curse…and Hulde was that curse in action. With her world tipped on its end, her mother dead, and her future before her, Hulde goes on a quest to discover not only who she is but what role she is meant to play in the most important story of them all: her own.
So, it’s kind of a bummer that I’m ending the series on this note. There are so many of Marillier’s books that are absolute favorites of mine, books I’ve re-read countless times. Sadly, this will not be one of them. But before I get into that, I do want to mention some of the stronger aspects of the story. First off, there’s no denying the cleverness of this idea. I’ve reviewed a number of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” stories on this blog. But to take that idea and flip it on its head, centering the story around the troll princess who thought the prince was her prince…why, that is clever indeed! Beyond that, there is never any fault to be found in Marillier’s prose. She paints beautiful scenes onto the page, and her stories are always well-paced and complete.
However, I struggled to connect to Hulde herself. It’s always tough with stories like this, stories that are meant to focus on the growth of a character from a starting point that isn’t all that sympathetic. Obviously, you have to leave room for your character to grow and have something to point them towards over the course of the story. The delicate balance, however, is that a reader has to also connect with that character from the start. Here, that balance was just a bit off. Hulde veered a bit too far into the realm of immaturity, displayed too many annoying traits, and generally was not particularly compelling. Of course, as the story is one of self-discovery, she grows into a more likable character. But for me, it was never quite enough to regain my lost interest in the character.
The romance was also not my particular jam. And this is definitely a subjective point. Because I think it was really smart and unique on Marillier’s part to write the romance as she did here. She’s known for her fairly straightforward love matches. So to see a polyamorous connection from her was definitely new territory. And from what I could tell, it seemed to be well done. But, again, subjectively, I do like my romances between only two people. As we’ve discovered in our book club theme this season, preferences for romance are probably one of the most subjective things there are in reading experiences. So, if this is your jam, you’ll probably really like it!
Lastly, I didn’t enjoy the narrator for the audiobook. This is the most disappointing aspect of the entire thing, really. A good or bad narrator can make or break a book. And readers who know they are particular about the narrator for audiobooks can avoid this pitfall by simply reading the physical book. But with this one, we don’t have that option. So if you don’t enjoy the narrator, you’re left with nowhere to go. It was really a shame, because it’s so hard to evaluate how much of my reading experience was dictated by my distraction and dislike for the format in which the story was being presented.
Sadly, this wasn’t my favorite Marillier title. I do think that if you check out a preview of the book and aren’t bothered by the narrator, you may enjoy it more than me simply for that reason. Readers who enjoy polyamorous relationships might also want to check this one out.
Rating 6: A rather unlikable main character and a disconnect between me and the audiobook narrator really set this book off on the wrong foot, and it never recovered from there.
“Beautiful” is on this Goodreads list: Polar Fantasy