Bed of Flowers
In Bed of Flowers, author Erin Satie has produced an interesting, and magic-free, fairy tale retelling.
Young and beautiful Bonny Reed is the prettiest girl in town, and possibly the sweetest as well. Unfortunately, after a terrible fire some years before, her family has been through hard times. Now engaged to the wealthy Mr. Gavin, Bonny’s marriage is the answer to her family’s troubles. Unfortunately, Mr. Gavin is hiding something, and is not as nice a man as he seems. And that’s where Baron Loel comes in. Loel is a recluse, a titled man who is very rarely at home and as broke as the Reeds. When Bonny wanders into his garden and accidently knocks over a rare and valuable orchid, she offers to do whatever she can to tend the flower. Against his better judgment, Loel allows her back.
But when the rest of the village hears she’s been associating with the baron, and her fiancé doesn’t take her queries into his secrets well, Bonny finds herself shunned for the first time in her life.
AAR staffers Em Wittmann and Melanie Bopp liked the sound of the first book in Erin Satie’s Sweetness and Light series, and are here to tell us whether the book met their expectations.
Em: Erin Satie is a new to me author and I looked forward to Sweetness and Light. Unfortunately, I didn’t love the heroine and this story lacked substance and nuance. I never felt as if I got to know Loel or his significant backstory, and some of the secondary characters read more like caricatures than real people in late-1850s England. The villain is so obviously bad I had to wonder about Bonny’s judgment, and her friends’ cheeky acceptance of Bonny’s impetuous choices late in the book simply don’t ring true for this historical reader. I wanted to like this book so much more than I actually did, which was disappointing.
Melanie: Satie is new to me as well, and I fully admit I picked this one up specifically because it’s a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I’m a sucker for pretty much any fairy tale retelling.
Em: When I read the initial blurb for this book, part of what appealed to me was the fairy tale twist. But after reading it, I think that’s misleading. Deconstructed or not, who is supposed to be the Beast? Loel? Why – because he made a mistake and is a social pariah? There’s nothing grotesque about him – if anything, the village itself is a Beast of sorts.
Melanie: Loel is definitely the Beast, and Mr. Gavin the Gaston character from Disney’s version, so obviously bad you wonder why anyone likes him. Loel, though, makes a hit-or-miss Beast. There’s nothing particularly grotesque about him, but his attitude is a bit beastly towards Bonny, especially in the beginning. He made a mistake as a young man and somehow started a fire, like Disney’s Beast didn’t let in the enchantress, and his punishment is his shunning. It’s a bit weak, but I can kind of see where the author was going with it.
What did you think of Bonny? And the reaction to her relationship with Loel? Personally, I found her a bit boring, and the town’s response to her was ridiculous. And her family? I can’t imagine catching a titled man, even one with a less than stellar past, and ending up with further shunning and hatred.
Em: I didn’t connect with Bonny at all. I understand that she’s beautiful and sweet and loyal, but there didn’t seem to be much to her beyond that. At first her naïveté is charming, but after a while it just grated. I never felt like she gave much thought to her (often poor) choices, and though I admired her sense of right and wrong where her fiancé was concerned, she never seemed to examine her own conscience in a similarly believable way. Her life is lived in reaction to everyone else: Loel told her about her fiancé and his perfidy, Cordelia urged her to be cautious and thoughtful about marrying, and Olympia and Tess… Well, honestly, I don’t really know that their purpose was in this story.
Melanie: Yeah, what was it with Olympia and Tess? They are interesting characters, but they come out of nowhere, do basically nothing, and then disappear into the ether. Maybe they are a set-up for future stories? Also, the ‘cleverness’ of the name-changes was a little bit of a let-down – Bonny instead of Beauty/Belle; I think Loel (which I’m guessing is pronounced like Lowell?) means “wolf cub” in French; Mr. Gavin takes the place of Disney’s Gaston; and instead of a rose we have an orchid.
Em: I don’t want to spoil the story, but I wonder if you felt similarly about the fire. All along, I assumed Bonny and Loel had some sort of relationship before he fled, and that perhaps Bonny’s guilt was because she was there that night. Were you surprised by the (not so) big reveal? Did you think they had some sort of relationship before Loel left town? Frankly, I think the story would have been more interesting if they had!
Melanie: I have no idea what the drama was supposed to be. I mean, I get that the fire was an absolute disaster, and that it changed the Reed family’s status and lives, but seriously, the drama surrounding it makes no sense. I agree that it would have been more interesting had there been a previous relationship between Bonny and Loel, or even between their families. The amount of anger towards Loel, and how long it lasted, would have made more sense if there was a whole level of personal betrayal going on.
Em: Let’s also talk about Loel’s time at sea – wait, let’s just talk about Loel. He’s an appealing hero, although his interest in Bonny seemed heavily invested in her beauty. For someone so self-aware and who’s had to survive through his wits and strength of character, it seemed like Bonny – all beauty, little substance – wasn’t a strong enough partner for him. I liked his passion and dedication to his flowers, his willingness to keep a low profile and respect the town’s anger at him… but at some point, I just wanted the guy to catch a break. The details about his time at sea just felt like more tacked on misery, and superfluous to the story. Sure, it explained the split with his parents… but it mostly just felt like an underdeveloped deus ex machina.
Melanie: I think Bonny was supposed to be the sweetness and light coming back into his life, but I agree that it just didn’t work. Loel could have been amazing, but he never really seemed to move past ‘she’s beautiful and nice’ in terms of his relationship with Bonny. I was a bit more accepting of the time at sea, if only because it further reinforces his reluctance to trust anyone, especially Bonny after she wasn’t fully upfront about, well, pretty much anything. Honestly, I spent more time wondering why he kept coming back to somewhere he was hated instead of setting up shop pretty much anywhere.
Overall, I felt like there just wasn’t enough detail to make this the full story it could have been. The characters were two dimensional stereotypes, the backstory was never really explored, and it was just… okay. I enjoyed it well enough while reading it, but it’s not a b ook I’d re-read. I’m giving it a C+ and a ‘maybe’ to reading more of the series.
Em: Bed of Flowers was a disappointment. The characters and the plot were underdeveloped, and I was never invested in the romance or the happily ever after. I’m giving it a C-, and it’s unlikely I will read the other books in this series.