Title: Bellarose (Prequel to The Aerowyn Tales series) and Gerard (Book 1 in The Aerowyn Tales)
Author: Carla Reighard
Publication date: July 1, 2020 and July 12, 2020
One Sentence Summary: Bellarose’s new friend, Layney, introduces her to a magical library where books come to life and Bellarose is swept away on an adventure.
As the prequel to The Aerowyn Tales, Bellarose is probably more accurately the prologue to Gerard. It’s a rags to riches story in reverse. Bellarose is a young woman from a wealthy family, until her family loses it’s wealth and is forced to move. Struggling with suddenly being poor, Bellarose unexpectedly makes a new friend, one who introduces her to an incredible library full of magic and waiting adventures.
I’ve been following Carla Reighard on Instagram for some time and have always loved how she takes fairy tales and mythology and makes them her own. Beauty and the Beast, the Disney version, was always one of my favorites even though the Beast scared me silly when I was 5, but I think it has to do with the library. When I learned an incredible magical library exists in Bellarose, I knew I had to start with The Aerowyn Tales.
Bellarose is a typical rich girl who has only to demand to receive. But, even in this short book, there’s something redeeming about her. There’s a kind streak to her and she manages to be befriended by Layney, a girl in the apartment complex her family now lives in. Layney introduces her to a couple of young men who live in the same complex and attend the same school Bellarose will be starting at, Gerard and Jasper. And an incredible magical library where the reader is sucked into the story.
Honestly, I think I spaced out through half of this story because I kept daydreaming about going to the library myself while my brain kept reading. But it really is a short story, so it’s both quick to read and re-read.
Since Bellarose is so short, it’s difficult to get a real sense of the characters, but they seemed fun and interesting. It’s also difficult to get a sense of story other than a girl becomes poor and is introduced to a magical library, but Reighard notes Bellarose is meant to give readers a taste of her writing and the story to come. It definitely reads more like a prologue, but, after also reading the first book in the series, I’m actually quite glad it was kept separate as Gerard is quite a different kind of story.
Gerard is based on Disney’s version of Beauty and the Beast. Since it’s my second favorite Disney movie (seriously, as a reader, it’s all about that library), I was really excited to read it. I wasn’t sure of what to expect or how far it would be inspired by the movie, but I loved how it took everything I was familiar with and gave it its own spin.
A Delightful Spin on a Familiar Story
In France, Gerard de la Rose and his twin brother Antoine are the spoiled children of wealthy nobles. Their indulgences are well-known and their excesses have turned the boys into absolute spoiled brats in every sense of the word. Until a fairy joins their midst and curses the family, tearing the brothers apart.
Gerard has few memories of his earliest years and was instead raised in a poor family. As a young man who spent his childhood working hard, he longs to do something to not be a burden on his adopted family. He and his best friend, Leo, become soldiers and are sent to Louisiana to fight in the Revolutionary War under a General de la Rose. There, Gerard unknowingly meets his father, as well as the love of his life, who perishes in the war. After the war, he hides his grief with machismo and is quickly offended by a young woman who isn’t charmed by him, Bellarose.
The daughter of a French noble family, Bellarose finds herself orphaned before the ship taking her and her family to America docks. Penniless, she takes what job she can, only to find herself thrown out. An old woman, though, points her to a manor that would be able to offer her employment.
Not long after, Gerard is informed of his true descent and is likewise sent to the manor to meet his brother. Unexpectedly thrown together, Gerard and Bellarose find an uneasy truce as they learn the secrets the manor holds, and the curse the master and his staff are forced to live under. But time is ticking, and the curse might stick if Gerard and Bellarose don’t do something quick.
Despite being more tell than show, Gerard was a fun spin on Beauty and the Beast. The story loosely follows the fairy tale with a household enchanted to be inanimate creatures and the master being a terrifying beast and a curse needing to be broken. But it gives the characters their own histories and spins.
I did feel the curse took a bit of a backseat to Gerard and his development. It was always there as Gerard and Bellarose worked out what was going on and then worked on figuring out how to break it, but, overall, it felt like a smaller part of the story. The first half of the story was fascinating as it painted a rich backstory to Gerard while the second half, the part focusing on the curse, felt like the Disney movie stretching out in a different direction. While still interesting with it’s own spin, it was also hard to not see the Disney movie woven into it, so it felt more like a familiar story trying to fall in line with the original while bending its own way.
Overall, though, it’s a fun take on a familiar and beloved story. I loved that it focused on a character who didn’t get much screen time, but who was still an invaluable part of the story. Despite everything crammed into it, from the backstory to the reimainged Disney movie, it’s fast-paced and I don’t think there was ever a lull in the story.
How Gaston Became Who He Was
Based on Bellarose, I expected to see more of Bellarose. But this really is Gerard’s story. It’s the story of Gaston and how he became who we see in the movie. It reimagines him in a way that makes him more sympathetic. I could absolutely see Gaston in him, as well as the layer that makes him more than the self-centered man portrayed in the movie. I loved that this book makes him less of a villain and even something of a hero.
I really liked how Gerard was made into more than a villian. I loved his growth and changes as the story unfolded. There’s a twinkle of his redemption at the beginning, when he’s trying to do something good for his family. But later overwhelming grief plays a strong role, serving as the catalyst for him turning into the character of Gaston. It’s easy to see Gaston and Gerard merge, easy to see how Gaston turned out the way he did and behaved the way he did. But Gerard makes him into so much more than that, forcing me to think of Gaston in a new light. While I don’t usually like stories that make Disney villains sympathetic, I really enjoyed this one. Gaston, like so many Disney villains, is so one-dimensional, but Reighard’s version makes him into a living, breathing character who takes a life of his own, and takes that life by its horns. He was fascinating, and I loved how he sometimes wasn’t as sure-footed as Gaston would have you think.
I was a little disappointed to not see Bellarose much, but I adored getting to know all of the chapters from her perspective. She’s spunky and adventurous just like Belle. I loved that she wasn’t afraid to put Gerard in his place, but also didn’t act like she was raised in wealth. She was down to Earth while also be able to play the noblewoman. She was, overall, a very good sort of person who had a lot of depth to her. She’s Belle, but taken a step further to really come into her own.
The rest of the characters were mostly the household staff and the master of the manor. The reader’s first meeting with them feels quite bizarre and there are so many questions, but I liked that they were quickly answered. They all took on a life of their own and each had a fun personality. They strongly reminded me of the household staff in the movie, so it made it easier to figure them out. Though I really enjoyed the spin taken with some of them that helped make the story into something different from the Disney version.
My favorite part of Gerard was that it took the story from France to Louisiana. I loved everything about the strong French feel with an American twist. It made me think of the French Quarter at Disneyland, which instantly made it feel like home. It was different, yet similar. Refreshing, yet comforting. My favorite part of the transplantation was that it gave the story and characters to breathe their own life into it and make it their own while still bowing to the French story.
Mostly set in the years bookending the Revolutionary War, it paints a Louisiana that’s still finding it’s feet, but has strong roots in the French tradition that’s still prevalent today. I don’t think I have any more words for how much I adored this twist. It gave me a strong sense of place and time. The plantation, too, had me thinking of the typical plantation home, but with an air of mystery surrounding it. I do wish it and the grounds had been explored a little more, but I still got a sense of a beautiful, palatial home.
Perfect for Fans of the Disney Movie
I got the sense that, maybe, the story depended a bit too much on familiarity with the movie to be able to fill in the details, but I did love the spin Gerard took to one of Disney’s classic movies. All the tell disappointed me, but, at it’s heart, this was a lovely story that managed to make Gerard sympathetic and redeeming, casting a very different light onto Gaston (I may never view the movie the same way again). I wished to have seen Bellarose more, but I absolutely loved the way she and Gerard interacted with each other. The story puts the characters of Belle and Gaston in closer contact and maybe asks the “what if” question of what would happen if they were forced to spend time together. My favorite part of Gerard, though, was that each character seemed to be based on a familiar one and then was allowed to breathe its own life. Overall, a delightful twist to a familiar story.
How many cups of tea will you need?