Beauty and the Clockwork Beast, Nancy Campbell Allen

The concept here is absolutely brilliant: setting a 'Beauty & the Beast' story in steampunk/Gothic. I have a weakness for all three, and I loved the feel of this world. I was hoping for a little more weirdness - too many inventions, like the mechanical horseless carriage, felt like easy equivalents for our own world, especially the ability to 'telescribe' other people, which sounded a lot like texting.

I like very strong plots with a clear sense of what we're doing and where we're going (while hoping to be surprised), and for me the first two-thirds of the book was missing that sense of urgency. But I kept going, because I liked the world and the concept; I did feel like it picked up, and I thoroughly enjoyed the last third.

The characters did not grab me by the heart, although this is probably no fault of the author's, and I really, really shouldn't complain, because Allen is well within the tradition. I'm personally fed up with Mr. Rochester-style heroes and spunky, liberated heroines. I suppose this is part of what you ask for when you pick up a 'Beauty & the Beast' story, but to me, the core of the story is the question whether Beauty will be able to see and love the Beast for who he is (how he acts, what he says), despite his repulsive exterior. It seems to me that this has been flipped, and what we get (over and over) are devastatingly handsome 'beasts' who behave rudely, and the question has morphed into something like whether Beauty will have the courage to stand up to this jerk and sass him right back. ARRG!

Again, I'm in the minority.

I do understand 'the beast' is a metaphor for overwhelming male sexuality, and we expect (at least in fantasy), that a spunky, liberated woman will be able to meet him at his level and transform the 'danger' into a mutually satisfying relationship. I think this is a rather limited view of male sexuality, however (physically dominating, inclining toward brutish).

I also think it's a rather narrow view of female strength: the heroines I really bond with, like Jane Eyre, like Marian Halcombe in The Woman in White, are not overtly pretty, they do not move freely in their society, they do not speak freely in front of anyone who will listen, they are incredibly vulnerable--and yet, they dig deep and find courage, against the odds, in the midst of their terror.