Actual rating: 3.5This book is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, where Beast is the captive, and Beauty is neither a beauty nor a paragon. Isra is not Belle, she is Rapunzel, she is Sleeping Beauty. She is a princess in a tower, locked up safe, coddled, and infuriatingly protected from the real world.I wanted desperately to love this book, but it just didn't turn out as well as I had hoped. I absolutely love alternate versions of fairy tales, and let's face it, those of us who have watched Disney's Beauty and the Beast are hooked for life. This is not a bad book, this is nowhere near a bad book. It just ultimately failed to hold my attention somewhere along the way. The characters were brilliantly portrayed, the writing is poetic, lyrical, and descriptive without being purple prosy or sounding like it was overachieving. Despite all its strengths, Of Beast and Beauty's plot was not engrossing for me overall. Among what I felt were its weaknesses were the unrealistic portrayal of romance, and a storyline that was initially fascinating but progressed too slowly and ultimately lost my interest.The summary of the book makes the plot sound more simple than it actually is. The actual plot is a lot more complicated, involving enchanted roses, the mystery of the Domed City, the mystery of the Covenant. It deals with issues with beauty within versus beauty without. It questions the characters' own belief in beauty and whether the outward appearance is an accurate reflection of the soul. It deals with internal securities, of anger, inborn prejudices. The book ties everything together well, the world is well-portrayed, particularly that of the desert."The desert bears their scars. The land spread out below us is all but barren. The desert floor is baked hard. The wind can barely move it. There are no more dust storms here. The ground cracks like eggshells, the pieces moving farther apart with every month that passes without rain. The trees are dead, and the few cacti that stubbornly push their way up from the scarred earth cast gnarled shadows, crooked fingers." Did I mention I love the writing? I need to mention it again, because I absolutely LOVED the writing. It's among the best in the YA batches that I've read this year.I wished that there had been more details on the domed city of Yuan. To be honest, that was part of my interest in reading the book. For me, Beauty & the Beast + Asian-related setting = SOLD (I'm Asian, there's a distinct lack of Asian-related books, so I am admittedly biased). The thing is, I never really got a feel for the culture and description of Yuan. Yes, there are Asian names, references to Asian culture, doing one's duty, etc., but they're just names, ideas. The city itself, the culture, the people, their customs weren't well-built, and never really felt real in my mind. The desert, the harshness of it, the bleak, lifelessness of the setting was so much clearer than the actual city containing thousands of people, an entire culture.Our heroine is blind, consequently, we see how she feels and senses things; her perceptions and heightened senses relative to her lack of sight was beautifully described...when it was described. I was actually a little disappointed at the lack of descriptions when we see things from her point of view (the book is written from a first-person perspective, with alternating narrators). It just doesn't feel like Isra is a good portrayal of a person who is actually blind. The best scenes in the book from her point of view was from the introductory chapters, when we see her running through the dark, feeling things, sensing things. Aside from that, we get very little sense that she is someone lacking sight.Character development is an absolute must for me within a book, and man, this book did it so well. A little too well, sometimes. Gem, Isra, Bo, are all wonderfully complex characters, imperfect, flawed, human. Bo's character surprised me most. Initially, I felt like there was a setup for us to hate him, and so, like a good little book reader, I did! Frustrating as he is, as much as I disliked his patronizing, condescending ass most of the time, he shows himself to be not completely lacking in kindness and compassion."It isn't right that she should live [life] in darkness. I don’t care what my baba said, I will not see my queen suffer any more than she must by virtue of her birth. I will see her eyes light up with wonder. I will see her smile as she looks at me and knows I am the one who restored her."Gem and Isra are so alike, yet so different. Not just by the nature of their appearance, although there, the difference is obviously vast. Isra is a Smooth Skin, human in appearance, yet flawed, not the ideal beauty by any means, but mainly in her own mind. Gem is a Monstrous, taller and broader than the average Yuan citizen by far, covered in orange and golden scales. They are as different as night and day, one royalty, one a monstrous outcast, not even allowed into Yuan, hunted and despised. Yet both are prisoners of their own mind, both are angry, both are full of self-doubt and loathing for what they feel are their personal weaknesses. They hate each other, having grown up believing nothing good of the other kind, believing in preconceived notions of goodness and beauty.Isra is sheltered within an inch of her life due to her position as royalty, and due to her disability and the taint of her late mother's madness. Her character frustrated me sometimes, she is so angry, so hurt inside, yet she keeps it bottled up, and ends up more or less a doormat of a queen. Isra is so utterly passive at times, and I can feel Gem's frustration as he suffers in dealing with Isra and her endless list of insecurities. She does not step up as a leader, she lets people tell her what to do, how to dress, how to act. Isra is a fucking QUEEN, she needs to grow some balls. Isra is a puppet of a ruler; she can barely muster up the energy to stand up for herself, much less run a country. Her passivity and her fatalistic state of mind is completely incomprehensible to Gem, because she is so ready to surrender to everyone and everything, and he is unrelenting."'Do it...do it! Kill me!'Her words make my blood burn. 'You're so ready to die?' I demand in her language. 'My people would do anything to live. Anything.'"I do so love the characters, but their romance felt much too soon, too forced, too fast. They are well in love before a third of the book is through. From literally wanting to kill each other, to falling in love in that short of a time, is incomprehensible to me. Their interactions in-between weren't conducive to romance, they bond, yes, but each have their personal purpose in using the other, and their growing feelings just felt completely obligatory overall. Their love is also overwrought with angst, and the romance is a much too prevalent part of the novel, where I felt like the plot should have been the focus."The most accomplished lover in Yuan kissed me, long and deep, and continues to do his best to seduce me, and I feel nothing but vague curiosity and more pronounced anxiety. Now a beast from the desert stands too close, and I am dizzy with wanting him. I crave his calloused hands on me."Meh.Overall: excellent characters, lovely writing, a lot of angst (to each his own), but the plot didn't hold my attention overall.