TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
Author Napoli is well known for her creative takes on traditional fairy tales (her "Bound" transports the Cinderella story to China and "Zel" places the tale of Rapunzel in sixteenth century Switzerland). In "Beast," we meet Orasmyn, a Persian prince who, due to his arrogance in sacrificing a camel at a ritual, is cursed by a fairy. Orasmyn literally becomes a lion, and, although he is often controlled by violent animal instincts, he still maintains some of his previous self. The reader follows Orasmyn as he leaves Persia and journeys through the Middle East and India, learning how to hunt, groom, fight, and generally survive as a lion, while still seeking to find some way to return to human form.
Eventually, Orasmyn settles in France. He moves into an abandoned castle with a grand library, where he plants and tends a rose garden and becomes a surrogate parent to a young fox. When he catches a local man stealing his beloved roses, Orasmyn spares his life in exchange for having the man’s daughter, Belle, come live at the palace. Can the frightened Belle learn to live with the wild beast? And, just as importantly, can Orasmyn curb his violent lion ways and become a gentle and compassionate being again?
Although you’re all likely familiar with this story, "Beast" is a great read because it is told entirely from the lion’s perspective. Orasmyn narrates his own story, so the reader sees firsthand what it's like to hunt and feed. We also get to understand Orasmyn's inner struggles, as his animal savagery challenges his deeply held Islamic beliefs. There are many beautiful, captivating descriptions in the book, and the author helpfully provides a glossary of unfamiliar Persian and Arabic words. "Beast" is recommended for middle school readers and up, particularly those who are looking for a strikingly different, almost lyrical story about ancient Persia, Islam, and the human capacity for acceptance and redemption.