Beauty is a retelling of the story of 'Beauty and the Beast', in first person, from the point of view of Beauty. The storyline is pretty much the same as in the traditional story but some details are changed.
Beauty is a nickname, her real name is Honour but as a child she decided that she'd rather be called Beauty, and the name stuck. She does not, however, consider herself beautiful. Beauty likes riding horses and reading, and when her father's business fails and one of her sisters marries, the whole family moves out of the town to start a new life in the countryside, and Beauty finds herself very capable at manual labour. Then news comes from town that one of the ships Beauty's father owned may have returned, and he goes out to see if this is true. On the way home he becomes lost, and finds his way to the home of the beast.
This book does an excellent job of fleshing out the characters of 'Beauty and the Beast', making them more real. Beauty's sisters are not ugly caricatures here, which I liked, and the magical castle in which the Beast lived was a fascinating place to see described.
This is probably the best-loved of Robin McKinley's books, the first of her novels to be published, I was recommended it several times before I finally picked it up in a library sale. However, I preferred her more recent novel, Spindle's End, which I read before Beauty (review coming soon). Most readers seem to think Beauty the better book, but I didn't enjoy it as much. Beauty is an interesting but pretty passive heroine, and 'Beauty and the Beast' was never one of my favourite stories - it's basically a romanticisation of Stockholm syndrome! The Beast in Beauty is just like the one in the original tale - he holds Beauty hostage in the hope that she will fall in love with him, and I just couldn't see him as a hero. I also found Beauty to be too obsessed with the way she looks, and was disappointed that in the end she does become "beautiful" (which means taller and more mature looking), I would have preferred to see her get over it!
I think anyone who loves the story of 'Beauty and the Beast' will really enjoy this, but if you always found the plot of the original to be a bit thin, you won't like it so much. This is a book aimed at children, I'd say pre-teens onwards would be best suited to it, but many adults have enjoyed it as well.