Fairy tale retellings are everywhere these days, it seems, and they never seem to get old.
There’s something at once comforting and exciting about reading a lot of different takes on the same story. You know what’s going to happen, more or less, but the thrill lies in waiting to see what unique spin the author will put on this familiar story. How will the pieces fall into place? What will the author keep, and what will they leave out? How will they incorporate this particular element of the original story? And now that we’re starting to see gay versions of fairytales… I have to say I’m a fan.
I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I actually managed to forget that The Misadventures of an Amateur Naturalist was a retelling of Beauty and the Beast in the time between requesting it on Netgalley and opening the ARC, and didn’t catch on until about halfway through. I think that’s a testament to how effectively author Ceinwen Langley manages to create an original story around the fairy tale setting. By the time the Beauty and the Beast elements come into play, you’re already invested in the characters and their story.
Here’s the summary from Netgalley:
Aspiring young naturalist Celeste Rossan is determined to live a life of adventure and scientific discovery. But when her father loses everything, Celeste’s hopes of ever leaving her home town are dashed… until she sees a narrow opportunity to escape to Paris and attend the 1867 Exposition Universelle.
Celeste seizes her chance, but the elements overwhelm her before she can make it five miles. In desperation, she seeks refuge in an abandoned chateau only to find herself trapped inside the den of an unknown species: a predator with an intelligence that rivals any human.
It’s the discovery of a lifetime. Or, it will be, if Celeste can earn the beast’s trust without losing her nerve – or her heart – to her in the process.
The Misadventures of an Amateur Naturalist is a really fun and quick read. The characters are well fleshed-out right from the start and the author does not waste any time setting things in motion. Protagonist Celeste Rossan is instantly likable. It’s easy to empathize with her as you watch her try to reconcile these two desires: the desire to build a life for herself that isn’t just being a housewife, and the desire to make her family happy. She makes a lot of very difficult decisions in this book, but they always make sense to some extent.
Even the character of Étienne – whose role in the story is somewhat similar to Gaston’s role in the Disney movie – ends up being a much more interesting character than I expected. In stories about arranged or undesirable marriages, the men are often cast as one-dimensional villains, but Étienne is simultaneously more likable and more off-putting than those types of characters. He’s a recognizable figure: the perfectly nice guy who feels entitled to more than friendship. Celeste is put in a really difficult situation when it comes to managing that relationship, and even though the specific circumstances are so different from anything I’ve ever experienced, I found the storyline really resonated with me. It’s a really, really good take on a popular trope.
This book is also a really interesting look at queer history. Without spoiling anything, I’ll say that the protagonist and her love interest are far from the only queer characters in the book, and the queer history is not limited to just their love story. The book does a really good job, I think, of showing both the good and bad of 19th century queer history. There’s plenty of angst of the type that you can only really find in historical gay romances, but there’s also lots of joy. It’s sweet and inspiring and fun. I couldn’t stop grinning the entire time I was reading the last few chapters.
Goodreads says that this is the first book in a series, but I haven’t seen any confirmation that that’s the case. Honestly, I would love to see more of these characters, but the story does stand really well on its own. It could be a great series, or a standalone. Either way, it’s worth reading.
Self-published books can be very hit-or-miss, and I know there’s always a lot of new media to consume in the fall, but I hope The Misadventures of an Amateur Naturalist doesn’t fall under the radar. It’s a really fun read, and well worth picking up this September.
The Misadventures of an Amateur Naturalist comes out September 1st, 2021.