You know how you can read a book once, set it down, and come back to it a few years later and enjoy it all over again? That's what this book is like. I find that most of the books I buy are books I will read multiple times, and there is a unique sort of pleasure to be found in a second, third, ninth read of a treasured book.
Beauty is the almost-sixteen year old daughter of the Duke of Westfaire, a man whose two favorite passions appear to be fathering children and visiting holy relics. Beauty's three closest friends are Father Raymond, the priest who teaches her Latin and the classics and who sees far too much for Beauty's comfort; Giles, her father's handsome man-at-arms, who is both honorable and socially inferior to her; and Beloved, her half-sister who could be her twin, who was born the same day as Beauty.
There is a mystery about Beauty, one her seven spinster aunts (who live at the castle) refuse to share with her, but Beauty knows it has something to do with her mother, who disappeared shortly after her birth.
When a woman comes to visit, a woman whom her father has pledged himself to marry, Beauty is ousted from her bedroom and takes refuge in the Dove Tower, which had been her mother's favorite room when she was still at Westfaire. There Beauty finds a letter left for her by her mother, a note revealing that her mother Elladine is Lady of Ylles, a land in Faery, and Beauty is therefore half-fairy. The note further says that an evil enchantment was laid on Beauty at her christening: that on her sixteenth birthday, the Duke's beautiful daughter would prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into an enchanted slumber.
(Is this story beginning to sound familiar?)
Beauty convinces Beloved to take her place for the birthday party so she can escape the fancy clothes and admiring eyes, and it is Beloved who falls prey to the curse. By the time Beauty realizes what has happened, all in the castle have fallen into an unwakable slumber, and a hedge of thorny roses has begun to climb about the castle. Beauty escapes and stands outside her home, weeping in dismay. There is but one spot of hope in her dim outlook: Giles had been sent away on a mission by Father Raymond after the priest observed the two young people exchanging a love-charged glance, so Giles has been spared from the enchantment.
As she wanders the countryside, blinded by tears, Beauty stumbles upon something completely foreign to her: a crew of time-travelling filmmakers from the twenty-first century, arrived in the fourteenth to record a bit of magic. They seize Beauty and take her back to their time, a world that is horrifying in its absence of magic and hope and beauty.
From there the story becomes a romp through space and time as Beauty tries to find her way back home and figure out her destiny. Along the way, stories of Cinderella, Snow White, and the Frog Prince get worked in, plus numerous visits to the land of Faery, which is peopled with a myriad of fantastical creatures.
Although the narrative becomes preachy at times, when Tepper rants about the fate of the world if modern people do not conserve resources, appreciate nature, stop deforestation, and allow abortion, there is enough magic and humor in the majority of the novel to give the sermons just a hint of bitterness that is quickly swallowed and forgotten.
In all, I highly recommend this book, especially if you like a mix of fantasy and humor, but please don't assume that I espouse all of Tepper's views.