Audiobook Review: Beautiful by Juliet Marillier
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Audible Studios (May 30, 2019)
Length:7 hrs and 18 mins
Author Information: Website
Narrator: Gemma Dawson
Juliet Marillier’s Beautiful, aptly titled, is a gorgeous three-part narrative about a very special young woman who embarks upon an adventure to find herself and save her people. A standalone novel expanded from the author’s novella of the same name, this story is currently available only as an Audible Original, which means it is an audiobook exclusive until print and ebook editions come out at a much later date. I would like to thank Audible Studios for providing me with an advance listening copy for review purposes, and the following is my honest opinion.
But first, a bit of background. I have not read the original tale upon which this book was based, but one would be able to find it in the collection Aurum: A Golden Anthology of Original Australian Fantasy edited by Russell B. Farr from Ticonderoga Publications. From what I’ve gathered in my research though, it would appear that this version of Beautiful is a lot more detailed at approximately 77,000 words, which is almost five times the length of its inspiration, itself a retelling of a Norwegian fairy tale called East of the Sun and West of the Moon about a young woman who marries a prince trapped in the form of a white bear. In it, the heroine must free her beloved from a terrible curse, and in order to do that, she undertakes a perilous journey to the ends of the earth where the Troll Queen has imprisoned him in her castle. The heroine then uses her wits to defy all kinds of odds, saving her man from marrying the Troll Queen’s daughter.
However, the star of Beautiful is a very different kind of protagonist. Hulde is what you would call the bit-parter, the forgotten one. Not the bold and indomitable heroine, nor the girl who gets the guy, she is in fact the troll princess, the quiet and unassuming daughter of the power-hungry Troll Queen. Marillier has described Hulde as “rather hard done by” in the original tale, so her novel was a chance to explore the character and her viewpoint in more detail. The first part of Beautiful tells of her childhood high in the mountain castle, growing up under the thumb of her temperamental and ambitious mother. Hulde is told that when she reaches age sixteen, she will be married to the most handsome prince in the land, though having been sheltered and isolated all her life, our protagonist isn’t really sure what to make of that. Her only friend—and the only one she’s ever had those kinds of feelings for—is Rune, the kindly white bear who only visits the castle every three years.
Well, knowing the gist of the original fairy tale, you can probably guess what became of that relationship and how Hulde took it. Hard done by, indeed. After the introduction, I began to better understand the author’s fascination for the forgotten troll princess’ role in the story as well as her motivation to come up with the next chapter for her character, and I was glad to see that parts two and three of Beautiful did just that. Following Hulde after she finally steps out from the shadow of her mother, this book chronicles the epic journey of her self-discovery. Along the way, we have action and adventure, challenges and pain, love and friendships as our protagonist learns about the world and where she fits in it. What we have here is the best kind of fairy tale-inspired fantasy featuring an evocative setting full of magic and enchantment, as well as an incredibly deep message behind our heroine’s quest to overcome her insecurities and blaze her own trail.
Speaking of which, Marillier is in her element writing about Hulde, a compelling protagonist I found irresistible and endearing. Growing up as she did with her overbearing and manipulative mother, Hulde has a rather unconventional personality for a fantasy heroine, but this only made her even more interesting to me. Not to mention, her upbringing also made her later relationships feel even more significant and poignant, especially when she realizes she is not as alone as she thought, that she friends and supporters in her corner. I also loved the bond she had with her very special dog, cat, and bird!
The three parts of the book are also very distinct, each engaging in its own themes and following its own structure. That said, the way they fit together is perfection, and the transitions make sense as each section sees Hulde reaching another stage of her development. This self-realization theme is tightly woven into every aspect of the novel, making Beautiful a joy to read if you love character studies and stories that focus on characters first.
Once again, I am reminded of why Juliet Marillier is one of my favorite authors, and why I think her books are absolutely required reading if you enjoy these types of stories. While she may be a master at writing the tragically beautiful story arc, her main characters often do overcome their hardships in heartfelt, meaningful endings. Beautiful was no exception. Read with feeling and eloquence by narrator Gemma Dawson who gave vitality and charm to Hulde, this is an audiobook I would highly recommend.