Beauty and the Werewolf Mass Market Paperback – May 22 2012
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"Lackey's satisfying fairy tale will captivate fantasy readers with its well-imagined world and romance fans, who will relish the growing relationship and sexy scenes."
-Booklist on The Fairy Godmother
"Fans of Lackey's Valdemar series as well as general fantasy enthusiasts should enjoy this classic fairy tale with a pair of proactive, resourceful heroes."
-Library Journal on Fortune's Fool
"[P]lenty of twists and laughs...most of the fun comes from finding all the fairy tale in-jokes peppering the pages.
-Publishers Weekly on The Sleeping Beauty
"A delightful fairy tale revamp. Lackey ensures that familiar stories are turned on their ear with amusing results. Appealing characters faced with challenging circumstances keep the plot lively. You don't want to mess with godmothers!"
- RT Book Reviews on The Snow Queen
About the Author
New York Times bestselling author Mercedes Lackey has written over one hundred titles and has no plans to slow down. Known best for her tales of Valdemar and The Five Hundred Kingdoms, she's also a prolific lyricist and records her own music.See all Product Description
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Anxiously anticipating Lackey next novel
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Bella is a mostly likeable protagonist, although she still has some of those requisite "more practical than thou" moments. (They're a staple of this series in particular, and they get a little tiresome after the third or fourth book.) One point that I did find somewhat disappointing was the way her character development was handled: unlike the standard heroines of the 500 Kingdoms, Bella starts out with an unexplicated but quite visible selfish streak. There was one point in the book where she thinks that the werewolf can't possibly feel as bad about her situation than she does. This is a man who has lived as a complete hermit for five years in terror of the thought that he might cause exactly this situation! Bella does grow up, by watching how her family pulls together to deal with her absence. I just kept waiting for a moment where she would acknowledge that perhaps she did not give Sebastian sufficient credit when she first met him.
Sebastian is a completely endearing character as well. Like Seigfried in The Sleeping Princess, he takes one of the classic MALE stereotypes of folklore - in his case, the absentminded, unworldly scholar - and both plays to his stereotype and goes beyond it. He is unworldly, but he is also a powerful and skilled sorcerer who clearly takes his responsibilities seriously. (Which is part of why Bella's failure to acknowledge that side of his character grated somewhat.)
Oddly enough, however, my favorite part of this story was probably the villain. Villains are often a major weakness in Lackey's books - either they come from nowhere in the very end of the book (as was the case in The Fairy Godmother), or they are so blatantly, utterly evil that they're hard to believe. That was not the case in this book. On the one hand, it was more or less obvious who the culprit was by the end of the fourth chapter, which was one of the major weaknesses of the book - with only three central characters, there wasn't even a red herring to divert suspicion temporarily. On the other hand, the villain actually showed that in addition to his nastiness, he was also a responsible person in his own way, aware of his own failings, and even well-intentioned in a short-sighted way. (I also can't help but think that Godmothers and their ilk are so used to thinking of things in terms of The Tradition that they forget basic psychology and profiling in looking for culprits!)
Final analysis: fans of Mercedes Lackey will definitely enjoy this story; it's a fast, entertaining read, endearing, and it patches some of the more common plotholes in Lackey's writing. Those new to her writing should probably read The Fairy Godmother and perhaps The Sleeping Princess first - but this would be a good third choice.
Surprisingly, this year's Beauty is not nearly the departure from traditional storytelling that last year's was. In this story, our "beauty" is named, predictably, "Bella" and is the oldest of a blended family of three girls. As is proper and traditional, Bella is the self-created head of the household. Her useless but assuredly not wicked stepmother spends her time in the bliss of mild hypochondria, cared for by well-meaning and understanding old gents who do their best to keep her happy with her gossip and warm wraps. Bella's sweet and empty-headed twin step-sisters are merely the first gatekeepers to the plot; they are used and promptly discarded literally 20 pages into the story.
Bella throws on her crimson winter wrap, and tromps off into the forest Red-Hood-style to visit the old wise woman in the woods. While on her way to Granny's house, Bella runs into the very disagreeable woodsman Eric, who warns her away from the woods. Bella rebuffs and rebukes him quite strongly, has a lovely visit with Granny, and is promptly bitten by a werewolf - the reclusive Duke Sebastian - on her way home. And with that werewolf attack, Lackey snatches the plot off of the Red Riding Hood path and drops it firmly onto the Beauty and the Beast plot line, delivering Bella to Duke Sebastian's castle to live out a three-month quarantine on her werewolf bite.
In this series, which began with The Fairy Godmother, Lackey takes the fairy tales we remember (Rapunzel, etc.), reminds us of the trope and expectations within each, and then promptly twists them around into new stories and new endings. The mindless magical force that drives many of the life stories within the Five Hundred Kingdoms is The Tradition. The Tradition gets its magic from the repetition of stories around the fireplaces - the faith of the common people - but is agnostic about any particular endings, good or bad. The Fairy Godmothers, Sorcerers, and other Tradition-educated magic users are constantly in a battle of wits and wills to manipulate The Tradition's force into happy endings (which might not be the actual traditional ending). The readers learn about the forces involved as the characters - Bella and Sebastian - find themselves feeling oddly emotional in times and places when it does not make logical sense.
The strengths of this book, and the series, are the characters themselves. Bella is amazingly self-aware and logical about her situation, and horribly stubborn in going about her rebellion. While she rebels against being manipulated by the characters in the castle where she is moved to live out her possible werewolf quarantine, she also explores the reasons for the werewolf's existence and the woodsman's horrid attitude. She also pursues wide-ranging studies, and finally figures out what The Tradition can do for her when she decides what she wants for a solution.
It is all very clever and the potential for thrilling stories in this setting is nearly infinite. However, Lackey seems to be running out of ideas and the last few books in this series have barely made it above extremely bland Harlequin romance territory (without all the ripping bodices even!). The Beauty here is Bella. She has grown up with two flighty stepsisters and a stepmother who can't seem to run a household despite obvious intelligence. Bella stepped into the role, so her father could concentrate on his business and that's all she's known since. She's in the very dawn of her 20s but is already considered a spinster and an old maid (and acts as if she is in her early 60s rather than her early 20s). A little trip in the forest to visit the local Granny (a kind of wisewoman) leads to Bella encountering a werewolf and being bitten. She's whisked away to a manor by the King's orders to be watched to make sure she won't turn into a were-creature, and is put face to face with the one who bit her (who is not quite what she expected).
Unfortunately this is as spicy and dicey as the novel ever gets. The werewolf is a Duke who has been put under some kind of spell where he turns into a wolf for three nights a month. Bella being headstrong and manipulative decides to re-arrange the household and start ordering the invisible magicked servants around as if it were her own house. She's bullheaded, arrogant and constantly reminding others of how entitled she is for this or that. The Duke is a wizard and a dreamer, easily cowed and infinitely apologetic over the nibble he took out of Bella's foot. By the halfway point, I was wishing he had eaten her for breakfast, as Bella continues to subdue his household, ride around in the woods on poacher patrol with the Gamesman on her little mule and enjoy music sessions played by the invisible servants. Nothing much particularly happens. Not for at least several hundred pages, as we are treated to dinner orders, lots of eating, and plenty of whining about her predicament (being trapped to the grounds of a spectacular mansion... how horrible). She is even allowed contact with her family every day but it is still not enough for the controlling Bella, who can't seem to even imagine how her stepmother and stepsisters could order a servant around without her (which they do fine, much to her chagrin).
If you are looking for something deep in The Tradition, it isn't mentioned much in the first half of the book, and only tokenly thereafter. If you want a romance, it's pretty bare of that as well. The brash Woodsman Eric seems a likely choice since there is zero spark between the bold Bella and the dreamer Duke. However, that's scrapped and she suddenly falls for the way Sebastian pushes his glasses around the bridge of his nose. They hold hands. There's a dramatic bit at the very end... but it feels unnatural and contrived. The twists can be spotted from the very beginning, and you hope that it's going to twist away into another path, yet never does.
A boring book, with an annoying leading lady... let's hope that next time Lackey feels a bit more inspired and delivers something intriguing in this world. The Tradition should demand it.
There are a lot of problems here. The lesser ones (a padded story, the soapboxes, grammatical errors) have been endemic to Lackey for awhile now and shouldn't be more troubling here than elsewhere. Worse is that Lackey already retold this fairy tale and did a much better job of it in _Fire Rose_. If you've read that book, you know how this one will go--although you could probably guess within three chapters either way. In _Fire Rose_ the romantic lead was a flawed man, the heroine a sympathetic figure, the setting more distanced from the traditional and familiar, and the stakes more compelling. I liked Sebastian, but he's an innocent victim and less interesting for it than Jason Cameron, whose condition was of his own making. As for Bella--
Ugh, Bella. Give me Disney's Belle, Robin McKinley's Beauty, or Lackey's own Rose Hawkins any day, please, over this arrogant, bossy, self-important character. This quote sums her up for me: "[...] she might as well order him about while he was feeling guilty enough to listen and go along with her." She won't shut up in her mind or her speech about how much she's owed for something that wasn't Sebastian's fault. She finds it appropriate to order around Sebastian's servants and take control of his household. She condemns snide comments and generalities about women, which would be reasonable if she didn't make her own snide generalities about men or hold women who aren't like herself in such contempt. By the midway point of the book I wished Sebastian would choose solitude over her company. Other reviewers have said, and I agree, that he and Bella have no chemistry anyway.
The book picks up for awhile in the latter third and I considered moving it up to three stars on the strength of some of the scenes there, but the predictable ending disappointed me. Besides, even though I enjoyed those scenes, I'm not sure what point they served. I would rather have read about Bella developing certain talents that ended up critical to the finale but were established almost entirely off-camera.
Not only has this story been done better by other writers, but it's been done better by Lackey--with an intelligent, sensitive heroine who managed to be neither a damsel in distress nor egocentric! Seek out _Fire Rose_ if you want to see Lackey's take on Beauty and the Beast. Me, I'm going on a sabbatical from the Kingdoms.
Ultimately, this series provides some interesting takes on fairy tales and I suppose that's why I stuck with it. But now? I'm pretty done. The Tradition is hammered out in boring detail in every book and each story, in and of itself, is trite and most of the characters have lacked depth (which hurt the romance) and all of the stories have lacked edge-of-your-seat suspense (in fact, this book was downright boring). What was fun escapist reading in the beginning has transitioned into a test of patience and now I get more irritated by these books than relaxed.