"It was a beast, and yet not a beast. A man, yet not a man. It stood tall on two legs and was clothed in a long coat and boots. It's intelligent eyes were of a tigerish glowing amber, set in a hairy face like a bear's; it had a tawny mane like a lion's, while its open mouth displayed teeth as white and sharp as a wolf's. I knew at once what it was though I'd never before heard of one that could take such a mingled form. Abartyen."
Scarlet in the Snow by Sophie Masson has all the classic elements of Beauty and the Beast (which has always been one of my favorite fairy tales): a man who's now a beast, a magical curse, an evil sorcerer, and a spunky heroine who has no idea what story she's just stumbled into.
"I was merely a pawn in a plan whose outline I couldn't yet glimpse. I had no magical powers, no special distinction, no great beauty or extreme cleverness. I was an ordinary girl with a small talent in storytelling, that was all. And how could that help me now?"
For Natasha, it's not just about escaping Ivan, the abartyen, or his enchanted castle. It's not even about befriending him. Or falling in love. It's about breaking his curse, and then still having to rescue him from the evil sorcerer who's got him imprisoned somewhere. That quest leads her to Old Bony, the witch of the forest, and then to the city of Champaine where she must search out Ivan's true identity, even though she doesn't know anyone there, or speak the language. Oh, and she has to figure out who the sorcerer really is, too. Good thing she doesn't give up easily...and that she has a little magical help along the way.
This is definitely Natasha's story, not the beast's. He's relegated to the background for most of the book, but Natasha is such an independent and enchanting heroine I didn't mind. And her adventure to find and rescue Ivan is both entertaining and fun. I love a book with a good happy ending as much as I love a good fairy tale retelling, too. Masson's book is both.