BOOK REVIEW: Barefoot on the Wind by Zoë Marriott
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo
Young Adult Fiction
Many of us are familiar with Disney’s version of Beauty & the Beast. The film shows the cursed Beast who captures the beautiful Belle, and it is only after Belle sees the creature’s inner “goodness” and falls in love that the spell is broken. Some people may consider that the Beast is actually rewarded with Belle’s love and not punished for his wrongdoings. Author Zoë Marriott has decided to redress this imbalance and tell the story from a feminist’s perspective.
Barefoot on the Wind is being described as a retelling of Beauty & the Beast and a companion novel to Shadows on the Moon (marketed as Cinderella meets Memoirs of a Geisha). The only thing that the two have in common is the setting; both books are set in a fantasy world and village in Japan.
Barefoot on the Wind is not a strict adaption of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s fairy-tale (the story that formed the basis of the Disney film). Instead Marriott uses major plot points from the famous tale, but frames it with her own contemporary perspective to help shape things.
Hana is the “Belle” or the star here. She lives with her parents on a mountain in Japan. A number of local townspeople, including her own brother, have vanished after entering the forest. The villagers presume these missing people are dead because they have encountered the beast. Hana’s father ventures into the forest to look for his missing boy. To the shock of the local townspeople, the old man survives but he remains under the influence of a dark spell. This black magic can only be broken if Hana faces death, injury and all manner of uncertainty and ventures into the haunted forest herself.
Hana – like Belle in the Disney retelling – is an inspirational character. In this case, she is a bold hunter who undergoes a journey of self-discovery. The love story between her and the beast (who she names “Itsuki”) feels like a secondary plot to her own education. While Marriott does a good job of producing beautiful and delicate prose in this book, there are times where the language becomes a tad too flowery and repetitive. Consider the following from page 92:
“Who are you?” I begged. It hurts it hurts why does it hurt so much? “You’re not my – where is my mother – who are you? What is your name?”
There is also the frequent refrain of “There is a monster in the forest,” as whispered by the trees, and this, too, can also be a tad grating at times.
Zoë Marriott has done a good job of updating the Beauty & the Beast story and allowing the female protagonist to have agency and control over her head, heart and destiny. A new generation of readers may appreciate this courageous version of Belle while others may remain purists, content with how she was originally portrayed, especially when you consider that she was a pretty sensitive and switched on heroine to begin with. Younger readers may appreciate Marriott’s easy-to-read, repetitive and flowery text and this could help encourage a new generation to enjoy fantasy fiction.
Marriott’s prose does have a charming, lyrical quality but the book itself is not the most important thing you’ll ever read. This slow but pleasant novel is a creative and inspired rendering of a classic fairy-tale.
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