Sarah has always been on the move. Her mother hates the cold, so every few months her parents pack their bags and drag her off after the sun. She’s grown up lonely and longing for magic. She doesn’t know that it’s magic her parents are running from.
When Sarah’s mother walks out on their family, all the strange old magic they have tried to hide from comes rising into their mundane world. Her father begins to change into something wild and beastly, but before his transformation is complete, he takes Sarah to her grandparents—people she has never met, didn’t even know were still alive.
Deep in the forest, in a crumbling ruin of a castle, Sarah begins to untangle the layers of curses affecting her family bloodlines, until she discovers that the curse has carried over to her, too. The day she falls in love for the first time, Sarah will transform into a beast…unless she can figure out a way to break the curse forever.
Tell Me More: Any fairytale worth its pages is capable of making the reader feel like maybe, just maybe it could happen to them too. It calls up a realm of possibilities just strange and magical enough to let the reader step out of their world, while remaining grounded in reality. Beastkeeper is one such tale, and in Cat Hellisen’s capable hands, it is the kind of story you could easily read over and over again.
Sarah is a protagonist reminiscent of those oral traditions: she is curious and observant, always on the edge of tipping over into dangerous ground. Despite that, she seeks safety and stability, and when her mother leaves the family and her father begins to change, she has to learn how to find that stability in herself. The voice that Hellisen chooses to employ for Sarah highlights that hidden steel in her–it’s steady, carefully paced and honest. It grounds the reader even as Sarah begins to discover the curse and its challenges.
Beastkeeper doesn’t just refer to the person whose love prevents the monstrous transformation. Sarah discovers that she is a beastkeeper in her own right, that her determination and strength of will keep despair at bay. She doesn’t lose herself in self-pity, but keeps going. Those qualities drive the story from being a simple fairy tale into a commentary on the value we place on our abilities and self-worth. Sarah acknowledges that she is important and that she is worth fighting for, and before she asks anyone else to fight for her, she’ll fight for herself. She fights for the right to keep her consciousness and to continue living. She makes the choice that her family has struggled with for decades, and she makes it with a remarkable confidence.
The Final Say: Cat Hellisen’s take on Beauty and the Beast is a powerful statement on the strength and determination we carry in ourselves, hand in hand with the beasts of our own anxieties and fears.
Cat Hellisen lives in South Africa. Her debut novel When the Sea is Rising Red was published in 2012.