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Looks like a beast. Acts like a beast. Yet isn't. Orasmyn is actually a Persian prince who, because of his pride in regard to an ancient ritual, angers a fairy, or pari. The pari transforms Orasmyn into a lion, which sets a powerful curse in motion.

After assuming the form of a lion, the prince realizes he must leave his beloved family and country in order to escape being killed by his father's own hand. Here, the story jumps to life, drawing the reader convincingly into the prince's life as beast. Once sensitive and peace loving, he is now forced to hunt and kill for survival, tearing his prey limb from limb. These actions are an anathema to his human self, and Napoli manipulates well the tension between the opposing instincts. Though Orasmyn knows he must kill or be killed, he is clumsy and takes no pleasure in the hunt. In an effort to stop himself from fully succumbing to life as beast, he continues preying to Mecca and reading verse, one of his favorite human hobbies (in addition to gardening). Orasmyn's daunting struggle to survive and triumph over the curse takes him from Persia to India and back again, concluding in France --- where he at long last finds the love he has been searching for.

BEAST, Donna Jo Napoli's latest fairy tale retelling, is a treat for both the senses and the intellect. Popular retellings aside, here, we finally discover who the Beast was before Beauty came to redeem him. Based on Charles Lamb's 1811 poetic version, in which the hero is of Persian descent, Napoli follows Lamb's lead by setting her story in an exotic land, where roses, gardens, verse, and lions play important roles in a rich cultural backdrop. Though labeled YA fiction, adults will also delight in Napoli's linguistic knowledge (the text is punctuated with Farsi, Arabic, and Latin) as well as her depiction of Islamic and Persian traditions and her excellent storytelling ability. Don't miss this engaging page-turner.

Reviewed by Tammy L. Currier on November 1, 2000

by Donna Jo Napoli

  • Publication Date: November 1, 2000
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum
  • ISBN-10: 0689835892
  • ISBN-13: 9780689835896