Summary from Goodreads:
In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret…
In the domed city of Yuan, the blind Princess Isra, a Smooth Skin, is raised to be a human sacrifice whose death will ensure her city’s vitality. In the desert outside Yuan, Gem, a mutant beast, fights to save his people, the Monstrous, from starvation. Neither dreams that together, they could return balance to both their worlds.
Isra wants to help the city’s Banished people, second-class citizens despised for possessing Monstrous traits. But after she enlists the aid of her prisoner, Gem, who has been captured while trying to steal Yuan’s enchanted roses, she begins to care for him, and to question everything she has been brought up to believe.
As secrets are revealed and Isra’s sight, which vanished during her childhood, returned, Isra will have to choose between duty to her people and the beast she has come to love.
I can go one way or another with fairy tale retellings. Sometimes they work out perfectly and I love them and sometimes they fall flat so I took a chance with this one. I should also say that Beauty and the Beast holds a special place in my heart so this book had a lot to live up to.
I really loved the way the book started with an opening that felt like how fairy tales set the scene for the entire story. There was this great story about how people made their choices and so some people were able to be saved and lived in a safe community but their paid a price for that and how some were cast out of those safe shelters and had become monstrous in order to adapt to the environment. I loved this concept that the people themselves were either considered to be beautiful or monsters. I really enjoyed that the entire time the story was unfolding that Jay kept the story concepts in mind and wanted to explain her world to you. I know a lot of people said that this world didn’t come full circle and they wanted to know more about it to understand it better but I think it was presented pretty well. Often times authors have several books to introduce their world and Jay had to start it and complete it all in one book which did have some rough parts and some slow parts but overall it worked.
I will say it took time for the characters to grow on me. Isra was presented as this blind girl who didn’t know what to do in life because her life was already given to the roses and she was strong but also very lost. Then we have Gem who can’t really show who he truly is because he doesn’t want these people to have any control over him. I fell it took a little while for both of these characters to break out of their shells and I will admit to putting the book down about half way through because I wanted a better connection. I will say though that when I did pick back up the book the second half moves faster and becomes more whole as a story. I started to love how strong Isra was becoming and I was falling for Gem just a little bit. By the end of the story I was in love with how much these two had grown up and become incredible characters. Plus there were some shocking things in this book that happened and you really need to read it to experience it.
Overall, I really did enjoy both the world building and the characters but I would say to give this story time because it does take a little while to get moving.