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Depravity by M.J. Haag

Oh, my. Has it really been over a month since I’ve written an entry?? I’ve been busy finishing up a new Stockholm Diaries story as well as a free gift story for my newsletter subscribers, along with other editing/proofreading projects… and suddenly, September is gone!

But it’s not like I haven’t been reading. In fact, the busier my daily life becomes, the more I’m tempted to disappear into the world of a good story… or sometimes just an engrossing one. Serials seem to lend themselves to the escape mentality, as they are especially designed to keep me reading.

As I may have mentioned before, I’m not actually a fan of serials. I think they often feel heavy-handed towards the end of each episode, as if I can feel the author work, steering the plot, just to keep me reading. And it irritates me.

So when I find a serial that actually leave me wanting more (as opposed to irritated), I take note. Such was the case with a new retelling of the Beauty and the Beast tale, which starts with the book Depravity. I initially found the book browsing Goodreads giveaways. I didn’t win the book (of course), but when I got an email that the book was up for a second giveaway, I decided to take matters into my own hands. As it turn out, the book was free on Amazon, so I skipped the giveaway and went straight for purchase. Note to self: effective marketing technique.

I’ll skip the summary, assuming you know the basics as well as I do. This particular retelling takes place sometime long in the past, probably in England. Benella lives in a rather poor house with her father and two, self-involved sisters. Life is tough, and both starvation and abuse (particularly rape). Benella witnesses enough to know she’s better off avoiding men all together. But they don’t avoid her, and she is thrust at the beast’s mercy. He seeks her out for reasons of his own, and she keep coming back, first out of obligation, and later, because she wants to.

Though Benella remains a fairly innocent character, the world she lives in is hardly innocent. It’s rough and gritty, and women are at the mercy of men. For those with a low tolerance for this kind of scenario, skip this book. But I think the author uses the grittiness of this world well in Benella’s own internal conflict between what she has witnessed and her growing feelings toward the beast.

Fairytale retellings hold a special challenge as well as an advantage. First, the challenge: We all know what’s going to happen, not just in the end but along the way as well. This ups the stakes for the writer: she (in this case) needs to keep us engaged while staying within strict character and plot parameters. Plot tension without using large-scale surprises. If we’re bored, we can easily put the book down, with full knowledge of what will happen.

But if a writer can master the challenge, there’s a built-in advantage to the fairy tale-turned-serial. Each book doesn’t have to leave off at high-stakes cliffhangers, since we already know what to anticipate in the next installment. In other words, a fairytale retelling, when done well, is the perfect material for a serial. The author didn’t have to work to keep my attention; I was invested enough at the start to read the series through.

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