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Review: ‘Beauty and the Werewolf’ by Mercedes Lackey

March 19, 2013

Beauty and the Werewolf coverIsabella Beauchamps, also known as Bella, is content to run her father’s household, help keep her stepsisters out of trouble, and dream of opening her own herb shop one day.  After taking her younger stepsisters on a secret escapade to the Guild dance and flattering her stepmother with pretty clothes items, Bella decides to visit her Granny, the old wise woman in the cottage in the woods.  So she dons her father’s red cloak, packs a basket with food and other things as a gift, and heads out of town on foot to visit Granny.

But Bella stays too long at Granny’s.  The guards at the town’s gates had warned her about hungry beasts that roamed the woods in the middle of winter, and she had promised to be careful.  But she had stayed too long, and Bella knew she would walk part of the way in the dark.  She rushes to gather her things and say goodbye to Granny, who tells her the full moon should light her way with no trouble.

The full moon rises and does indeed light Bella’s way home.  But then a howl echoes around the forest.  A howl of a wolf.  A lone, apparently hungry wolf.  Bella spots the wolf and runs, hoping to make the town, but the wolf corners her and snaps onto her ankle, its fangs breaking the skin of the ankle.  Bella screams and the wolf lets go of a sudden, then runs away.  Bella doesn’t pause to wonder at the wolf’s strange behavior; all she knows is that her ankle is bleeding and painful, and she hobbles her way home, where she is treated by one of her stepmother’s doctors.  He tells her he must report the animal attack to the guards, and though Bella is reluctant about this, she agrees.

The next morning, Bella realizes the full import of the wolf biting her when the king’s men come for her and take her away from her home, her family, all that she knows, and installs her in the cold and lonely manor of the duke–along with the duke, Sebastian, and his unpleasant Gamekeeper, Eric.  The wolf that bit her had to be a werewolf.  Did that mean she would turn into a werewolf as well?

My Thoughts: An excellent new installment in the Five Hundred Kingdoms series.  I do hope Lackey writes more books in this series, as I have enjoyed all of these books–though she may be running out of fairy tales to rework into the Kingdoms.  Beauty and the Werewolf combines two different fairy tales: “Beauty and the Beast” and “Little Red Riding Hood”.  Like all of the Kingdoms books, you do not need to have read any of the previous books to enjoy or understand the current one.  They were written as standalones, though related ones set in the same universe and with Godmother Elena, the original character from The Fairy Godmother, intersecting with the story in some way.  But the magical system and The Tradition are all explained in a new way in each book.

Bella is a wonderful lead character, and I enjoyed reading her story.  She’s so feisty and snarky, and I enjoyed her dry sense of humor.  Bella likes to be useful, and spends much of her time finding ways to be useful.  She’s also very intelligent and imaginative, and uses both of those qualities to get out of situations and solve or avoid problems.  I became invested in her and her story, and wanted to know what happened to her next.  She’s a character to root for.

The duke, Sebastian, is an odd sort of fellow, but considering what happens to him, it’s not unexpected.  He’s very studious, but still likes to be social and enjoys the company of others.  Although he’s upset about what has happened to Bella, he is nevertheless happy that she has joined him in the manor.  A lot of Bella’s dry humor goes over his head, though he does have a sense of humor and uses it once he is more comfortable with Bella.  I think most readers would find something to like in the duke.  He’s personable, once the shock of the situation has worn off and he’s able to relax.

The other major character is Eric, the Gamekeeper.  Unpleasant, rude, bullying, he’s someone that is nearly universally disliked.  Bella certainly doesn’t care for him, but since she has to see him during her stay at the manor, she does get to know him better.  Eric does what he can to chase away poachers from the duke’s forest, and acts as the duke’s steward.  Still, there is something about him that Bella finds uncomfortable, aside from his unpleasant personality . . . something to do with the secrets he may keep.  I can’t say I liked this character, though he provided a welcome counterweight to Sebastian’s passivity and created some drama.

Godmother Elena comes off as much more ruthless and almost uncaring about Bella’s fate in this story, and I never had the sense that Elena would be that way.  It could be that she comes off that way because Bella’s situation demands such a reaction, or Bella’s filters about the situation invite the reader to see Elena in that way.  It could also be that because I haven’t read any of the Five Hundred Kingdoms stories in a while, I’m forgetting a few of Elena’s details . . . be that as it may, I had never really gotten the sense of Elena as ruthless.  I’d always seen her as caring and mostly gentle, in a fiery sort of way, but not ruthless or cruel.  So this was a bit of a surprise, to see her characterized in this way.

The plot is well done, and the pacing was just right.  I stayed up late reading this book, which I only do if the book is really good.  Although I had an inkling of who the villain might be, I could never be certain.  It’s nice to be kept on your toes sometimes, and this book certainly does that, not only in wondering who the villain is, but in wondering what will happen to Bella and the werewolf.

One odd thing: on the cover, Bella is portrayed as a brunette.  But in the book, I’m pretty sure she’s described as a blonde.  I’m not sure if that was an accident, or if I’ve misunderstood something, but it seemed odd to me.  Normally the covers for these books are so spot-on I feel that the artist has perfectly captured the character in the cover art.  I think I would like Bella better as a brunette (though I’ve nothing against blondes, seeing as I am one!).

I give this book 5 stars for excellent characterization, an active and well-paced plot, and definite re-readability.

5 stars

Buy on Amazon * Author’s Website * GoodReads

Book info: published 2011, 408 pages, ISBN 9780373803460

Copy is a personal copy.

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