Thanks to Walker Books Australia for sending me a media release copy of Barefoot on the Wind.

The tale of Beauty and the Beast is an established and familiar story, stretching from its traditional roots in 1700’s France to the arguably best-known film representations by Disney.

Zoë Mariott offers a retelling of Beauty and the Beast set against a rich Japanese backdrop that weaves together the traditional story elements with rich Japanese folklore and characteristics. Mariott’s Barefoot on the Wind is not merely a reskinned fairy tale, but instead a clever and thoughtful expansion of the Beauty and the Beast tale in a new and exciting direction.

At its core, the tale is wonderfully familiar – a beast in a dark forest, possessing great strength and imprisoned by both external forces and his own mind; and a young and courageous girl who grows to know him and understand him. And yet, Barefoot is so much more — this is, fundamentally, a novel about grief and loss.

Hana’s family and village has been torn apart by a curse that lays over the Dark Wood – once a month, a person from the village is called into the Dark Woods and brutally murdered by an impossibly strong beast. Hana’s brother was taken years ago, and her father has blamed her for his death. When her father is subsequently attacked and almost killed, Hana embarks on a mission of revenge, determined to kill the beast using her impressive hunting skills.

Injured by the beast, she awakens to find herself in the company of a strong and silent companion who is, at times, seemingly unused to human contact – but he possesses a heart of gold. Naming him Itsuki – or ‘tree’, after his strength and calmness – Hana overcomes her initial distrust and begins to work with, and eventually love, her rescuer.

The greatest flaw in Barefoot on the Wind is a rather obvious one – based on such a classic fairy tale, the plot itself is rather easy to predict. There are a few small twists, but largely the plot follows the expected route, robbing the reader of any great surprises.

This is, of course, a minor complaint. Barefoot on the Wind is a wonderfully engaging read, painting a gorgeous Japanese-inspired world thick with colour and life, weaving together traditional Japanese culture and folklore with the original French fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast.

Opinion

A polished and entertaining retelling of Beauty and the Beast, with engaging characters battling grief and curses against a rich backdrop of Japanese culture and traditional folklore.

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