Yeva hates the tedium of attending the baronessa's afternoon tea parties, but it is expected of her as the daughter of a wealthy merchant. It's not just that sitting around gossiping is boring and stuffy, but Yeva misses hunting with her father. She misses the physical exertion and the mental challenge. But ladies do not hunt, at least not the way Yeva used to. So many things changed once her father became rich and moved the family into the city--even their names changed. Little Beauty became Yeva, Tvertko's youngest daughter.
Now fate turns on the family. Tvertko's caravan, in which he invested his entire fortune, disappears. Destitute, he must take his three daughters back to the tiny hunting lodge they once occupied. Yeva doesn't mind leaving, but Asenka, with her twisted foot, should really be back in town. But ruination takes heed of no one's suffering, so they retreat from the city into the cold woods. There, Yeva's father begins to hunt again, and so does she, accompanied by her faithful hounds Pelei and Doe Eyes.
However, Yeva's life is not as simple as she wishes it to be. Solmir, a noble of the town, fell in love with her while she attended the baronessa. Oblivious to the depth of his feelings, Yeva is shocked when he arrives at their cottage and proposes marriage. This is especially painful because it's Ashenka, not she, who is truly in love with him. But Beauty likes Solmir. He is kind, he enjoys hunting, and he respects her. She could do far worse, so she accepts his proposal. Then her father doesn't come back from a hunt, and against her sisters' wishes, she sets out to rescue him.
Little does she know that the Beast in the forest has been watching Tvertko for many years, hoping he is the hunter they need. But Yeva finds her father's cold body in the depths of the forest, his blood gleaming against the snow, and the Beast takes her back to his castle as a prisoner. Her ribs are broken and her ankle rubbed raw by the manacle on it. With the help of a mysterious friend who brings food, light, and medicine, Yeva slowly recovers. She trades the folk tales of her youth in exchange for the unseen ally's assistance.
As we all know, this friend is actually the Beast, and the story proceeds apace. The Beast is not alone in his frozen castle, but neither is he served by strangely transformed staff. Instead, he becomes a part of the world of fairy tales, with rusalkas and leshii and domovoi (see also: The Bear and the Nightingale). Yeva learns to walk this fairy land with the Beast, seeing the elements of magic superimposed on the mundane world. She is tasked with hunting the creature responsible for Beast's transformation.
There are no singing candelabras in this story, no wicked hunters or adorable yapping footstools. This is a story of the heart's longing and loneliness. Yeva's final quest to save the Beast is far more involved than giving him a kiss. I can't capture the quiet loveliness of their relationship, nor can I fully describe the stunning atmosphere of lush decay that Spooner creates in the Beast's castle. That's why you have to read this yourself. I am utterly and completely in love with this story.