Series: Gothic Fairytales #1
Published by Independently Published on 31st October 2020
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Amarrah Brewer is desperate and grief-stricken.For ages, the town of Bitterburn has sent tribute to the Keep at the End of the World, but a harsh winter leaves them unable to pay the toll that keeps the Beast at bay. Amarrah volunteers to brave what no one has before—to end the threat or die trying.
The Beast of Bitterburn has lost all hope.One way or another, Njål has been a prisoner for his entire life. Monstrous evil has left him trapped and lonely, and he believes that will never change. There is only darkness in his endless exile, never light. Never warmth. Until she arrives.
It's a tale as old as time... where Beauty goes to confront the Beast and falls in love instead.
‘Bitterburn’ is an interesting take that flips the Beauty and the Beast fairytale into something that puts Beauty into a proactive stance, and the Beast in need of saving…not quite out of true love, but through the lady’s own smarts. In that, Ann Aguire inserts a little feminist take on it, though not so much as to make Amarrah Brewer a brash bra-burning sort but a protagonist who certainly takes the lead in every way.
Beauty and Beast here are victims in their own right, snarled by some kind of magic and evil that has spread out to the land, holding them captive. The archetype has Beauty freeing the Beast, but Aguire takes a little bit of a twist getting there as Amarrah charges through her new life at the keep while discovering more and more of her own witchy abilities.
And while I loved the rich world-building and Aguire’s take on curses, I don’t think I finished the book with any proper or deep understanding of Njål’s personal history or the exact circumstances under which he came to Bitterburn or the very interesting (but ultimately under-explored) back tale of the evil spirits that laid siege so long ago. The narrative is grounded only through Amarrah’s POV and her perceptions, and the singular focus on her and what she uncovers are what the reader’s own revelations are limited to, making Njål almost like a side-show in a tale where he’s more seen as the passive but secretive victim than a cursed, bad-tempered beast whose state is of his own making.
Clarity remained frustratingly out of reach for me by the end—many things were couched in seductive, poetic language or dream sequences that keep in line with the style of fantasy storytelling but did nothing much to tease out several dangling loose ends that were simply left unexplained— and I ended up with questions that were eschewed in favour of having Njål and Amarrah slowly making their way into their post-curse new world.