Roses & Thorns is a touching retelling of the "Beauty & the Beast" fable with a lavender twist. We all know the old story. A young, handsome noble whose cruelty and selfishness had caused pain to many was cursed. He was condemned to appear to be the beast he had behaved until he could learn responsibility, compassion, how to love and finally be freely loved by a young woman.
The author, Chris Anne Wolfe, did not merely place a lover of women in the role of the callous beast. Instead she took an opportunity to explore how a hateful and homophobic society condemns those seen as different. Thus forcing the condemned to shamefully hide who they are in an effort to win acceptance, approval and possibly even love.
Years ago, Drew, a young noble woman was condemned as "the most perverted, grotesque of creatures known to our earth" because she loved another woman. Sadly the object of Drew's affections had more interest in gaining access to her father's wealth and having Drew cursed was part of the plan. ...Drew was cursed to live in a parallel, magical time and place until she could find another woman who would love her in return.
Drew internalizes this hate to the point of not expecting or believing that she could or should be loved freely by another woman. Drew's shame prompts her to cloak her female identity from any accidental visitors to her realm. Over centuries no young woman was willing to look beyond Drew's mask to know her as a person, let alone love her freely. It seemed to Drew that her damnation was deserved.
Bound by the curse, Drew once again barters for the hand of a traveling merchant's daughter. But Angelique, this latest young woman to arrive in Drew's domain, is different. She's not afraid of Drew. This charming, romantic fantasy is a delightful way to pass an afternoon. Quite enjoyable, it is unnecessary to read the fable as more than a love story. However, elements of the story returned to me after reading it. This is not just a "simple" retelling of the beauty and the beast story.
The late Ms. Wolfe succeeded in creating a new fable for the lesbian (and gay) community from this old tale. She reminds us that there are many "beasts" in this world who would like to condemn us for being different. People who use fear of that difference to achieve some personal gains. She points to our love as our ironic redemption in the face of such hate and fear. This multifaceted story is what fables are supposed to be. Read it and be charmed.
BN: This title was originally published under the title, Bitter Thorns by Pride Productions, in 1994. The cover was based on Wolfe's illustrations and not as evocative as the new cover, however, if you can locate this edition, do so. There were editorial errors in the new edition.