I had not read Sandhya Menon’s breakout hit When Dimple Met Rishi, but I’m a sucker for a fairytale retelling, so when this book appeared in my Libby app, I went ahead and decided to try it out. I’m always looking for something enjoyable to listen to when walking the dog, and this seemed like it’d do the trick. The setup is simple: it’s a retelling of Beauty & the Beast which shades of Romeo & Juliet. The Emerson and Rao families have been at odds since the British colonization of India, a rivalry culminating in an Emerson stealing a priceless ruby from the Raos, and a Rao matriarch cursing the Emerson family in return. Now, Princess Jaya Rao finds herself and her sister attending the same elite boarding school in America as Gray Emerson, the heir of his line. Jaya believes Emerson is responsible for leaking photos of her sister to the press, and has decided to make him fall in love with her so she can break his heart as vengeance for all his family has done to hers. Meanwhile, Gray (aka Lord Northcliff) labors under the belief that he is cursed and that his life will end on his eighteenth birthday. And then here comes Jaya Rao, with a rose-shaped pendent set with eighteen rubies, and he can’t shake the belief that it’s got something to do with him…
It’s a fun setup overall, and there are cute moments along the way as Jaya comes to realize that Gray is just a traumatized teen, not a monster, and Gray realizes he enjoys coming out of his shell when he’s around Jaya. There are various subplots, too, involving the other rich kids at the school and their little affairs of the heart.
Ultimately, though, the novel frustrated me a bit. The plot machinations are telegraphed a bit too obviously, and certain hiccups in Gray and Jaya’s relationship seem more like plot-required delays than anything organic and stemming from who they are. The world of it all also felt inconsistent: is St Rosetta’s Academy an elite school with elite academics or just where rich kids get dumped when they’ve been expelled from everywhere else? It wants to be both, but does a poor job of it–also, it’s clearly signaled Gray has been educated there since he was in kindergarten, but we never get a glimpse of anything but the high school. Also, the book is shaky on the actual idea of the curse: is it real or not? is magic real or not in this particular universe? it seems so messily tacked on, and the end seems to want to have it both ways, but literally nothing except Jaya’s pendant with its disappearing rubies has any taste of the otherworldly. It’s more Gossip Girl than Grimm’s.
This novel is apparently the first in a series based at St Rosetta’s, and I’d guess than Book 2 will focus on Jaya’s younger sister, who is a much more engaging character than Jaya, but I think I will leave the series from here to the actual YA audience that it is aimed at.