Thursday, March 18, 2021

Aster Glenn Gray - Briarley

During a chance summer shower, an English country parson takes refuge in a country house. The house
seems deserted, yet the table is laid with a sumptuous banquet such as the parson has not seen since before war rationing.
Unnerved by the uncanny house, he flees, but stops to pluck a single perfect rose from the garden for his daughter - only for the master of the house to appear, breathing fire with rage. Literally.
At first, the parson can't stand this dragon-man. But slowly, he begins to feel the injustice of the curse that holds the dragon captive. What can break this vengeful curse? 

Comment: I saw this book being mentioned in several places and the opinions I read made me curious to try it for myself. This is the first book I read by the author but I'm still a little unsure of how I feel about the writing style.

In this book we have an interesting twist on the Beauty and the Beast tale (it's my favorite Disney movie!) set during WWII but keeping some magical aspects of the original story. When a man tries to take shelter in a house, he is discomfited to find the table set so properly but no one is around. As he decides he might not eat anything, he leaves but he can't resist taking a single rose for his daughter who, coincidentally, is also called Rose. At that moment, a winged beast accuses him of being a thief and although the man offers to pay, the beast says the only price can be his daughter. As the man refuses this, he starts to learn more about the curse set on the house and those who live there and he can't help help feeling a little pity for them. Will there be any chance the curse can be broken?

I'll start by saying this was a too short story for the plot it wanted to present. Yes, yes, if one knows the tale then I agree the important elements were recognizable and present and it might not be necessary to add things just because but I got the feeling this was way too short and for the romance in specific, I believe more pages developing the relationship would have helped.

This being a version of the tale, of course some things are included while others are not. It was also interesting to have the setting during WWII but the most evident clues on this are the scenes where it is mentioned because the action takes place mostly within the propriety and in there the curse prevents outside forces from becoming too obvious. It also seems the people inside have been cursed for almost 100 years which means that, to me, at times it was a little weird to notice some incongruence in what was being said/perceived but, overall, that wasn't what made me think this was only good enough.

I'd say the biggest issue I had was with the way the romance was played out. I'm thankful the story didn't go into "lust at first sight" but to be fair, I'd have liked a little more connection between them from the start or a clear path into romance for them. Until the end, even after they acknowledge their feelings (no "I love yous" though), they could be anyone else, so weak was the manner the romance was developed. I suppose we can always read between the lines of course, but it would have added more flavor to this to have them demonstrate their feelings more obviously. And I don't even mean sex or kissing or anything physical, but a more obvious intention towards the other would have been good.

We also only know the names of the protagonists well into the story, which didn't make it easier to feel we were getting to know them well. I liked their conversations and the things they learned about one another, so I can trust they would have a quiet future somehow but there are a few details that make me doubt it, especially because of the profession of one of them. It's complicated to explain but I felt the unique elements the author added to make this special made things more convoluted at the same time.

I'd say that, all things considered, the writing style was quite adequate to what one might expect from a fairy tale retelling of sorts, it's quite a whimsical, impersonal tone but I did hope for more romance, more romantic moments and/or scenes, more romantically magical situations... I think, to me, this story will not be very memorable in the future...but someday I'll try something else by the author, to compare.

Grade: 6/10

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