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Book Review: The not-so dramatic true story behind Beauty & The Beast

The truth behind your favorite fairy tales might not be as idyllic as Disney has made them out to be. Molly Greeley’s “Marvelous” blends a Beauty and the Beast retelling and actual history.

Based on the true story of Petrus Gonsalvus, “Marvelous” illuminates the true story behind The Beauty and the Beast legend and recreates his life in the French court of Catherine de Medici. After being kidnapped off the island of Tenerife, Petrus (originally Pedro) is bought by French King Henry II to be “tamed” and raised in the French court. As Petrus rises to fame in the court as “Monsieur Sauvage,” Queen Catherine develops a fascination with him and selects a bride to add to her menagerie of extraordinary people.

Petrus’s bride, 17-year-old Catherine, is the daughter of a merchant seeking to pay his debts with the outrageous dowry the queen offers. As Petrus and Catherine navigate newlywed life, they must maintain the balancing act of the royal court and political climate during this tumultuous period.

And yes, the Disney movie and fairy tale are based on Petrus and Catherine’s lives in the French court. Still, despite Greeley’s best efforts, the history and political intrigues aren’t fleshed out enough for readers. I struggled with accurately pinpointing the historical relevance of the story and believing much of the happenings in “Marvelous.” Much of the historical figures and events were written as last-minute additions to add more historical relevance to the plot. Greeley even admitted in her author’s note that she barely researched the historical period.

Furthermore, the narrators–Petrus and Catherine–had little to no dimension off the page. Lord, did I suffer reading through their inner thoughts. Despite being described as overly emotional (which, by the way, why do historical writers still do this?), Catherine never expresses these feelings and comes across as a static woman who lets the world walk all over her. Also, Greeley implies an ungodly amount of marital rape scenes that are never addressed, which further cements my opinion that if you can’t write or discuss rape or sexual assault with dignity, don’t write it! Additionally, Petrus and Ludovico’s brief love affair made little to no sense. It felt as if Greeley had stumbled upon queer history and decided to throw that into the mix to add some “spice” to the novel.

If my previous gripes don’t make you want to pull out your hair, then the pace of “Marvelous” will. The plot and action of the novel dragged out often. Still, if Greeley had done her research, the events of the historical period would have propelled the novel enough to make it bearable.

“Marvelous” was set up to be the next great retelling of a beloved fairy tale, but Greeley’s rendition of the truth left much to be desired.

This ARC was provided by William Morrow and Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Follow @bergreadstoomuch on Instagram for more!

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