Bitterburn by Ann Aguirre
Gothic Fairytales #1
October 31, 2020, Self-published
Review by Kate
With Bitterburn, I came for the Beauty and the Beast retelling and stayed for the story of two broken people finding each other and falling in love.
Bitterburn has all of the typical Beauty and the Beast story beats – the beastly hero, the enchanted castle, a curse, a library, a heroine who loves to read, and doesn’t know her own beauty. However, there were also differences that, in my opinion, improved on the original. One such change was the anger that is sometimes so central to the Beast’s personality. Njål is mercurial, definitely, but he doesn’t scare Amarrah, and his personality feels more melancholy than anything. Amarrah deviates from the “typical” Beauty I am used to, as well, since she doesn’t display what I consider the “too stupid to live” qualities that tend to be prevalent of the character archetype. And in this version, Amarrah displays far more agency than in many other versions I have read – first in her choice to go to the castle and then in her choices following her discovery of the curse.
At only 210 pages, this book is a quick read, and I was able to finish it in one sitting. The incredible tension between the everyday life Amarrah builds in Bitterburn and the piece by piece revelation of the evil she is up against results in a very compelling reading experience that kept me riveted. I do believe there were parts that could have been a bit more fleshed out, but there weren’t any open-ended questions at the end to take away from my enjoyment of the resolution.
Obviously, as with any Beauty and the Beast retelling, there are many scenes of Njål and Amarrah on the page together, just the two of them. The development of their relationship is very well done. It is a slow build-up of trust as they start to move forward together, despite their individual traumas and losses, and learn to believe in what the other is telling them. With regards to their physical desire, it is clear that Njål wants Amarrah, and that she wants him, but they proceed slowly and cautiously, ensuring at every step the mutual interest between them. If I had to assign a moral to the story, I would say that Bitterburn shows that instead of love conquering all, a partnership formed of mutual respect and trust can be a formidable force all by itself.
Though Bitterburn sticks to the typical framework of a Beauty and the Beast retelling, I found it engrossing and creatively done. I am looking forward to the next tales in the Gothic Fairytales series.
Content warnings: mistreatment of children