Genre: Historical Fantasy Fairytale Retelling
Publisher: Feed the Writer Press
Publication Date: September 1st, 2021
Pages: 365, eBook
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 has some interesting spins on the Beauty and the Beast fairytale, such as Celeste (the Beauty) sacrificing herself to a marriage she doesn’t want in order to save her family, instead of sacrificing herself to the Beast, as well as making her a naturalist/scientist. I did enjoy these takes on the plot beats of the original fairytale. I also liked Celeste well enough as a main character, although I’m not sure she had much of an arc, as such. I felt she was more or less the same character in the end as she was in the beginning of the novel.
The biggest issue is that the pacing is very off. We don’t meet the Beast until close to the 50% mark. The first half is spent on Celeste’s life and the circumstances that lead her to being desperate enough to run away. I’m not opposed to this idea, but we simply spend too much time in it, and as a consequence the story dragged quite a lot. The better choice may have been to shorten this and have Celeste act sooner.
Langley’s choice not to introduce the Beast until nearly halfway in also harmed the progression of Celeste’s relationship with her. Their progression from distrust to trust, to friendship, to love wasn’t as clear cut as I would have liked, and in the end I’m not entirely certain I believed the love between them. Quite literally, Celeste initially spends more time on-page with a barn owl in the castle than she does with the Beast.
At times it felt like Langley suffered from the issue of not really knowing what to have Celeste do in the castle, and instead chose to focus more on scenes with Celeste and the Beast. However then the issue became that there simply wasn’t enough time to develop that relationship as it should have been developed.
Also, if I didn’t know this was the first in a possible series, I would have been very put off by the fact that Celeste doesn’t seem to spend much time thinking about her family in the last chapter. They still believe she’s dead and here she is, going off on an adventure with her wife, and she doesn’t even think about them once. No remorse? No guilt? Maybe this will be handled in the sequel, but it should have had a mention here, in my opinion.
The strongest parts of the novel were the technical writing aspects of it — Langley has a lovely writing style that’s easy to read, and I was able to envision her world easily. Her characters were also strong, and I appreciated that she didn’t go the Gaston route with Celeste’s fiance Etienne. If the issues of pacing were fixed, I would have enjoyed this novel much more. I may still read the sequel (I’m thinking it’ll be a Little Mermaid retelling, given some dialogue in the end).