>> Thursday, March 29, 2012
The eldest daughter is often doomed in fairy tales. But Bella— Isabella Beauchamps, daughter of a wealthy merchant—vows to escape the usual pitfalls.The fairy tale-inspired Five Hundred Kingdom books are my favourites by Lackey. The last one was absolutely fantastic, so I had high hopes for Beauty and the Werewolf
Anxious to avoid the Traditional path, Bella dons a red cloak and ventures into the forbidden forest to consult with "Granny," the local wisewoman.
But on the way home she's attacked by a wolf—who turns out to be a cursed nobleman! Secluded in his castle, Bella is torn between her family and this strange man who creates marvelous inventions and makes her laugh—when he isn't howling at the moon.
Breaking spells is never easy. But a determined beauty, a wizard (after all, he's only an occasional werewolf) and a little godmotherly interference might just be able to bring about a happy ending.…
Briefly, the premise of the series is a world which is influenced by something called The Tradition, a sort of mindless, unthinking force which tries to shape events into traditional stories. So, for instance, if a king with a beautiful daughter is widowed, evil sorceresses will feel the need to descend in force and try to seduce him into marriage, and he will feel somehow compelled to actually marry one of them, thus giving the young princess an evil stepmother.
The Tradition, however, is not an absolute compulsion, and people who understand how it works can manipulate it and undermine it, forcing it into paths less harmful to everyone involved. This is the role of Godmothers, who protect the Kingdoms assigned to them.
Several other people know about the Tradition, including some rulers and wise people. Contrary to what the blurb quoted above suggests, however, our heroine is not one of them. Bella, the previously unremarkable daughter of a merchant in town, has no idea the Tradition's gathering force around her and pushing her into reenacting something that's a cross between Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast.
Bella thus innocently puts on her red hood and goes through the forest to visit the old woman known as Granny, who's teaching her how to become a healer. One day, on the way there she encounters Eric, the duke's right-hand man, who thinks she's a common peasant girl and tries to bully her into his bed. Bella soon puts him straight, but she and Granny spend so much time discussing what to do about Eric and speculating about the duke (who's mysteriously become a recluse a few years earlier), that she ends up leaving later than she intended, and having to walk through the woods at night. And wouldn't you know it, she's attacked by a big, scary wolf.
Bella manages to fight it off, but not before it bites her. It's not a bad bite, so the doctor (who happens to be at her house when she arrives, treating her hypochondriac step-mother) can treat it easily enough. He warns her, however, that he'll have to let the sheriff know, as the authorities are very keen to hear of any animal attacks.
The authorities response is immediate. Bella's woken up the next morning by the sheriff's men, who whisk her out of bed and out of the house, without her understanding what on earth is going on, and dump her at the duke's manor.
Bella's not stupid. In fact, she's a good example of Lackey's brand of clever, hyper-competent heroine, so it doesn't take her long to work out the obvious conclusion to be drawn from a duke suddenly and mysteriously becoming a lock-in and everyone freaking out when someone's bitten by a wolf. Duke Sebastian is a werewolf.
And this is when things change from Red Riding Hood to Beauty and the Beast. For the next few months, Bella must be isolated in the manor, until the authorities can be certain she's not about to become a werewolf herself. And while she's there, there are plenty of mysteries to solve, like what caused Sebastian to suddenly turn into a werewolf, how on earth did he get out the night she was attacked and who or what are the mysterious invisible helpers who run the household?
It's a fun plot and a fun book. Lackey keeps amazing me with her cleverness, and I always throughly enjoy the elements of world-building in her books. The concept of the Tradition is just genius, and I love what she does with it. She is not content with just using the traditional story. Oh, no, she takes them as a starting point and twists them into something quite fresh and different, that just makes you go "wow".
As for the romance, that was nice enough, but a bit underdeveloped. Bella is a really cool heroine, who, when placed in a bad situation through no fault of her own, doesn't sulk (well, only a little bit) and makes the best of it. She's not one to just accept things, though. She questions whether things are actually necessary, and wins plenty of concessions by standing up for herself, even to people more powerful than her. Duke Sebastian, however, we get to know a bit less. I liked what I saw: he's a very beta hero, a scholar and wizard, a considerate and seemingly genuinely nice man. But that's about all I knew about him, and I wanted to know more, in order to really enjoy the romance.
MY GRADE: A B.