A Near Future Retelling of Beauty and the Beast
Alainn’s father is not a bad man. He’s a genius and an inventor. When he’s hired to create the robot Rose, Alainn knows taking the money is a mistake.
Rose acts like a human. She looks exactly like Alainn. But, something in her comes out wrong.
To save her father from a five year prison sentence, Alainn takes Rose’s place. She says goodbye to the sun and goes to live in a tower no human is allowed to enter. She becomes the prisoner of a man no human is allowed to see.
Believing that a life of servitude lies ahead, Alainn finds a very different fate awaits her in the company of the strange, scarred recluse.
Sold. Beauty and the Beast is my favorite fairytale. The amazing movie by Disney from my childhood probably has a lot to do with that. Even more, it’s quite simply one of the most romantic fairy-tales there is. The characters fall in love for all the right reasons, beyond bounds of appearances, judgement, and prejudices. You can always bet your last dollar that I’ll read a Beauty and the Beast retelling.
The past is a common setting for fairy tale retellings. Historical romance and medieval fantasy, usually. It was refreshing to see Ensnared using a different framework.
Ensnared is set close enough to present time that there isn’t the need for a lot of technical world building, which ends up being both good and bad, but it most definitely is the future. Robots do many and varied tasks: from every day menial things, to complex calculations.
With all these aspects to the story, Ensnared ended up doing better in some areas than others.
The romance between Alainn and Lorccan was sweet and nicely realized. It felt a little slow to build and then suddenly quite rushed, which was a bit of an odd transition for me. I liked that Alainn wasn’t there as a prisoner at Lor’s direction, which added a much better line of consent than the original has. There’s less Stockholm Syndrome, because he’s not her captor, and more bonding and care between two damaged people. I enjoyed this aspect quite a lot.
It was in the world-building and the plot that let me down. The world-building was sparse. There wasn’t a lot required – which was nice – but when you start describing a world in which AI is normal, I need to understand how we got there. When there are still junk, polluting cars, but AI capable of sustaining themselves and overwriting their programming, it’s too simplistic.
The robots themselves have evolved and there’s no real elucidation as to how this could have even happened. While I don’t want to read pages and pages of technical information, there was too much of a gap between plausibly realistic and what was happening here. I needed that link. It doesn’t take a lot either, just a little bit of history on how we got to the point where we could make realistic, human-passing, robots that are able to make themselves indestructible. Especially while the rest of technology hasn’t followed. Yes, there are holographic screens, but cell phones are still the norm, junk cars that belch fossil fuels are used, and the city seems normal, except robots are doing all the work – which makes me wonder what humans are doing to make a living.
The plot, too, got a little convoluted. Which is part of why the world-building fails. If the robots were a simple means of initiating the romance then I wouldn’t need all the background. That’s all they are, at first. But then there becomes this huge plot to do something, which we don’t really find out until the end. The AI robots are plotting and planning, many of them for various and contradictory purposes, and none of it really makes sense. Why do they choose the path they chose? I still don’t quite understand the logic of it. You have to really make me believe if the plan revolves around a single point being the fulcrum on which the future rests. Rose never convinced me of that, which made me question her plot, and thus the entire plot.
It didn’t help that there were random scenes from other points of view that were really unnecessary. Character showed up for no reason, adding nothing to the story.
Near the end the very interesting subject of what it is to be human, to have rights, was brought up. I didn’t have a lot of hope, by then, that the ethical and moral questions would really handled intriguingly. I was right. It was quickly brushed them aside because “evil robot.” Everything was tied up and resolved without really delving into the depth available with that subject, which makes me wonder why it was really brought up in the first place.
Ensnared is rife with possibilities, and while I enjoyed this entry of a Beauty and the Beast retelling it fell short in some of the other areas that it tried to branch into. I would have liked to see more depth to the ethical questions raised or have had them not included at all. There was a huge opportunity missed there.
Now, more than ever, I’m looking for stories to talk about real world problems and solutions in fantasy situations.