An adult fantasy fairy tale with a great message about the true meaning of beauty.
Beauty can be internal or external, true or faked, but however it comes, it alters our own perception of the world and the way people respond to us. It is the nature of beauty and how it influences us that is at the heart of Juliet Marillier’s fantasy fairy tale for adults.
Like all good fairy tales, Beautiful has a moral compass that takes us through an adventure filled with curses and trolls, good vs evil, and a quest for love and self-acceptance. The story evolves through the eyes of Hulda, a princess trapped in lonely life at the top of a mountain. As young as seven, Hulda already knows she is destined to many a prince she has never met. Her life is controlled completely by her autocratic mother, including her friendship with Rune, a kind-hearted bear that visits once every three years and teaches Hulda about the beauty hiding in front of her eyes.
When disaster strikes on her wedding day, a 16-year-old Hulda sets forth on a quest to save her groom with unexpected support from those she learns to trust and whose trust she earns. The quest leads Hulda to embrace herself and discover what truly makes someone beautiful.
Released exclusively as an audiobook through Audible Studios, Beautiful is an expanded reworking of a novella released last year. Author Juliet Marillier is a historical fantasy writer who has loosely based her fable on a Nordic fairy tale, East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Her story provides an alternative telling of the original fable which unravelled from the viewpoint of the bear and his girlfriend.
Beautiful is read by the marvellous Gemma Dawson, whose proper British accent is fitting of the central character. Dawson brings Princess Hulda to life with all the emotions and wonder of a sheltered young girl who finds herself on an unexpected and dangerous adventure. Fuelled by Marillier’s strong characterisations, Dawson’s narration is heartfelt and engaging. While the plot is fairly straight-forward, there is a lot of depth to be found in both the characters and their journey, making Beautiful an easy but satisfying listen for ages 14 and above.
Running just over 7 hours, Beautiful is an Audible Original and currently available only as an Audible audiobook. Add it to your recommended listening library.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis