Thursday, August 19, 2021

Bitterburn by Ann Aguirre

 

I absolutely adore anything Gothic so when I found out about this story, I was all over it like white on rice. Beauty and the beast retellings have kind of been done to death, but Ann Aguirre actually sort of managed to put a fresh take on it, so props.

Amarrah lives in the town of Bitterburn which is next to a castle by the same name. The town believes the castle is cursed and leaves offerings for it, but on a particularly lean year, Amarrah herself is sent as sacrifice to the castle. Once there, she finds an abundance of food and supplies and prepares to settle in for what she expects will be death when she encounters Njal, the tenant of Bitterburn.

Njal has been cursed but unlike other iterations of Beauty and the Beast where a prince was cursed for arrogance and selfishness, Njal's story is much more tragic and empathetic. As Amarrah settles into her new home, she becomes utterly obsessed with Njal's past and determined to set his present to rights.

BITTERBURN is a pretty good story. The writing kind of feels like it's a YA story but there is a lot of sex. That said, I think older teens would probably like this book. It's also a very feminist spin on what is traditionally a pretty sexist tale. Aguirre tweaked a lot of the things that made Beauty and the Beast a Stockholm syndrome fantasy: Njal isn't an asshole and Namarrah has tons of agency. On the con side, the sex scenes weren't the best and there was SO MUCH TALKING. Like, I'm all for consent IRL but there's a point where too much talking makes things unsexy for me, and this book crossed over that line dozens of times. Like, respectfully, shut up and bang. It almost felt like a playbook for sex ed at times. Very clinical and preachy. I was not into that at all. There's only so  much "is this okay? is that okay? are you liking this? are you SURE you're liking this?" I can take.

Apart from a couple nitpicky qualms I had with this book, though, I'd say it's pretty good. It's filled with magic and heroines rescuing the heroes and I think fans of Jill Myles and Naomi Novik will like this.

3 out of 5 stars

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