Beauty, by Sheri Tepper
Sheri Tepper looked at a map showing the boundaries of different genres and, taking a fine black marker, drew her own shape instead.
Fantasy: there’s magic and faeries and they’re a real part of the world.
Science fiction: time travel and a dystopian future are integral to the plot.
Fairy tale retelling: the titular character is meant to be Sleeping Beauty (… and that phrase should be understood in a couple of different ways).
Horror: a couple of sections, for my tastes anyway.
Christian allegory: tied in with the Faery aspects, they work quite nicely.
Bildungsroman: the novel covers pretty much the entirety of Beauty’s life.
Environmental cry for help: the future is a horrible place unless we get on with changing things NOW.
Family drama: oh yes. Oh my yes.
I know there are other authors who do similar things, but it’s rare to find such a magnificent combination of elements that are traditionally ‘fantasy’ (faery, fairy tales, etc) with those that are science fiction (time travel in particular). I can absolutely see why Tepper is being honoured with the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award, and this is the first of her books I’ve read (… I’m pretty sure…). There is just no question for her that of course a dystopia can coexist with the concept of magic, that fairy tales can be reworked together with time travel.
14th-century Beauty lives with maiden aunts and her father, when he’s not off crusading. Her mother died in childbirth, or so she’s been told, but when her father intends to marry again, she discovers that maybe things are weirder than expected. And then things get really weird when she encounters people from the future and she is whisked away with them, to a decidedly brutal and unpleasant future of billions of people, little room to move and less food. She doesn’t stay there, but ends up travelling… elsewhere…
Look, I can’t say too much else about this book because finding all the amazing twists and turns is an absolute joy. Tepper writes beautifully, at times grimly; she constructs a complex character in Beauty and surrounds her with genuinely varied friends and foes and family. SO MUCH happens in fewer than 500 pages. It’s magnificent.