Map of Blue Book Balloon

1 August 2020

Review - Bookish and the Beast by Ashley Poston

Art by Peter Greenwood 
Design by Elissa Flanigan
Bookish and the Beast (Once Upon a Con, 3)
Ashley Poston
Quirk Books, 4 August 
Available as: PB,283pp
Source: Advance reading copy kindly supplied by the publisher
ISBN: 9781683691938

I'm grateful to Quirk Books for an advance copy of Bookish and the Beast. 

I am loving the Once Upon a Con series. Drawing upon fairytales - but allowing the protagonists to be bothy conscious of the fact and, at times, critical of the tropes and outcomes possibly involved - they're creating their own universe, in which geeky teenagers get to have their say, to delineate their own world and celebrate their heroes. Each book adds richness and some critique of the previous books and characters. And it's all, of course, entwined with the hit SF TV series and film, Starfield. (Poston gives us tantalising little glimpses of Starfield. I need more!)

Bookish and the Beast is, of course, modelled on Beauty and the Beast though the author cheerfully admits that's she's chosen the elements she likes from that story (which is of course what you do with fairy stories). The Beast is Vance Reigns,  bad-boy (well, bad-17 year old) actor and star of the Starfield films (he plays villainous Ambrose Sond) who's become embroiled in a scandal and sent off to a no-name town where he will be out of the gossip columns. Beauty is Rosie Thorne, still mourning the death of her mother and keen to get out of the no-name town and hit the big city. Rosie's backed up by staunch friends Annie and Quinn. Quinn's running for Homecoming Overlod (not King or Quinn as they're non binary).

Poston gives us alternate chapters from Rosie's and vance points of view, allowing a rounded picture of the misunderstandings between them - Vance's brooding sulkiness and Rosie's defensive pain tend to produce sparks as they have to work together to catalogue a library of rare Starfield books. It's possibly a simpler, more straightforward romance than the first two books with some predictable barriers to happiness and it takes place in Rosie's home town and school rather than around a con. (I didn't find that lessened the atmosphere or geekiness of the story - Rosie, Quinn and Annie supply plenty of that and we also see appearances by some characters from the earlier books, with a hint that their lives continue to have ups and downs). 

There are some shrewdly drawn relationships - Rosie's with her dad, generally referred to as "Star Dad" for reasons that become clear is very touching, and he is also a man with some surprises for us. Tropes like "wicked stepparent" are avoided and it's all grounded in a solid presentation of the emotional stuff that the two teenagers are going through - Vance has been hurt by so-called "friends" who just want to sell him out to the tabloids, Rosie by the loss of her mother and the impact the cost of her treatment has had on the family finances (thank goodness for the UK's National Health service). She's, to a degree, stumped for what to do next, blocked in writing the essay she needs to apply to the university of her choice, and being targeted by the most popular boy in school - attentions she DOESN'T want but fear she may, out of politeness, accept.

It's a very enjoyable read and fleshes out what I hope will be a continuing wider universe.

For more information about Bookish and the Beast see the Quirk website here.

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