What a delightful surprise this story was. The Beauty is apparently part of a continuous story began in Ms. Delacroix’s previous novels, which I have not read. While the themes are familiar ones of abduction and beauty and the beast, how they unfold and resolve themselves is not. Because the themes and situations were familiar, I found myself lurking around corners of the book ready to jump out and shout, “Ah Ha, Gotcha!” and slash a big "C" on the page for cliché, but for the majority of the book the author gave me few opportunities to do so.
Jacqueline has decided to dedicate her life to the church, since women have but two choices in life: marriage or the church. None of the suitors for her hand has been able or inclined to see beyond her beauty to the humor, compassion and intelligence that make up her character. Angus MacGillivray, looking to reclaim his inheritance from whom he thinks is responsible for the deaths of his family and with the help of a fellow crusader abducts Jacqueline on her way to the convent believing she is the spirited daughter of his enemy Cormac MacQuarrie.
You can pretty much guess where this is headed, but what you won’t guess is how they get there. No heavy handed “I’ll take you by force, you are my captive” sort of thing. Angus redeems himself as a character by acknowledging and questioning why Jacqueline’s fear of him is excessive even considering the circumstances. Nor does it take Angus the entire book to realize that the end does not justify the means, and in spite of his efforts to appear and believe that he no longer has any honor, he is a good and honorable man.
Jacqueline looks beyond the surface to the true man. She does this with the added burden of an attempted rape at the age of fourteen (which I expect happened in an earlier book). Here again, I thought, “Here comes a cliché”. Nope. While the incident is very responsible for her seeking out the convent, she is able to ultimately see people and events with truth and not fear. A refreshing change from “I think all men are bad, and even though you really haven’t done anything to me with ample opportunity to do so, you’re still just as bad as the others.”
I’m careful not to mention specific incidents because it would truly spoil the story. This story is driven by the time spent together getting to know and love one another over the course of just a few days. Each of their interactions together weaves the fabric of the story and no encounter, no matter how small is wasted in illustrating that process.
There were a few things that kept this from being a five-heart romance. One was the lack of a clear, stated motive for the villain. When evil, reprehensible things are done by a character I like/need for there to be some reason for it, even if it’s only greed and envy. Considering the circumstances, greed does not quite make sense. There's also a hint of madness, but neither is clearly identified as motivation for the crimes committed against the MacGillivray family. Without that motive, it almost makes the story pointless.
Jacqueline is thoroughly believable and enjoyable as a character. Angus MacGillivray, however, is only just saved from being a cardboard cutout when compared to Jacqueline. At first glance he is your usual deeply-scarred hero, both physically and mentally, but nonetheless turns out to be a very likable character.
And getting to the very end of the story without the usual clichés and unnecessary separations, there was an eleventh hour declaration by the hero that didn’t balance with the rest of the story.
The Beauty is not an action-packed adventure, no “being taken to a broken-down keep and whipping it and the villagers into shape” or a host of other medieval scenarios. Just the simple story of two people who meet and, after the initial impressions shaped by circumstance and faulty information, get to know and love each other without long, drawn-out, contrived conflict. How refreshing.