As is often the case with popular fairy tales, there’s very little new story to be wrung out of “Beauty and the Beast” these days, so I was a little skeptical of Bryony and Roses. Even after reading T. Kingfisher’s (a pen name of Ursula Vernon) Toad Words and Other Stories, which is full of superb fairy tale reimaginings, I was unsure if there was anything she could do to freshen up such an old and well-worn story path. An opening note that admitted an enormous debt to Robin McKinley, whose Rose Daughter is perhaps the definitive feminist “Beauty and the Beast,” was frankly more concerning than reassuring. I ought not have worried so much. Just like in her earlier fairy tale work, Vernon-as-Kingfisher does an incredible job of exploring and revitalizing ancient material, infusing it with a bright, modern, thoroughly feminist (and unequivocally delightful) sensibility.
Bryony and Roses is clearly heavily influenced by Rose Daughter. Let’s get that out of the way, first. However, it’s been nearly twenty years since the release of that book, almost forty years since McKinley’s first “Beauty and the Beast” retelling, Beauty, and close to twenty-five years since the release of Disney’s animated version. There’s also been any number of other retellings of the story, with perhaps a handful of significant new versions in any given year. While Bryony and Roses shares some ideas and motifs with Rose Daughter, it also owes a considerable amount to other versions of the story, if in no other way than that it’s very obvious that Ursula Vernon went into writing this tale with a long list of things not to do and a few tropes that she specifically seems to have set out to upend.
**Spoilers Ahead** Continue reading Book Review: Bryony and Roses by T. Kingfisher