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Beauty Meets Beast in San Francisco

Accepting employment as a governess after hard times hit her family, medieval scholar Rosalind Hawkins is surprised when she learns that her mysterious employer has no children, no wife, and she is not to meet with him face to face. Instead, her duties are to read to him, through a speaking tube, from ancient manuscripts in obscure, nearly-forgotten dialects.

A requirement for the job was skill in translating medieval French, and she now understands the reason for that requirement, and assumes her unseen employer’s interest in the descriptions of medieval spells and sorcery is that of an eccentric antiquary. What she does not realize is that his interest is anything but academic. He has a terrible secret and is desperately searching for something that can reverse the effects of the misfired spell which created his predicament.

433 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published January 1, 1995

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About the author

Mercedes Lackey

464 books8,342 followers
Mercedes entered this world on June 24, 1950, in Chicago, had a normal childhood and graduated from Purdue University in 1972. During the late 70's she worked as an artist's model and then went into the computer programming field, ending up with American Airlines in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In addition to her fantasy writing, she has written lyrics for and recorded nearly fifty songs for Firebird Arts & Music, a small recording company specializing in science fiction folk music.

"I'm a storyteller; that's what I see as 'my job'. My stories come out of my characters; how those characters would react to the given situation. Maybe that's why I get letters from readers as young as thirteen and as old as sixty-odd. One of the reasons I write song lyrics is because I see songs as a kind of 'story pill' -- they reduce a story to the barest essentials or encapsulate a particular crucial moment in time. I frequently will write a lyric when I am attempting to get to the heart of a crucial scene; I find that when I have done so, the scene has become absolutely clear in my mind, and I can write exactly what I wanted to say. Another reason is because of the kind of novels I am writing: that is, fantasy, set in an other-world semi-medieval atmosphere. Music is very important to medieval peoples; bards are the chief newsbringers. When I write the 'folk music' of these peoples, I am enriching my whole world, whether I actually use the song in the text or not.

"I began writing out of boredom; I continue out of addiction. I can't 'not' write, and as a result I have no social life! I began writing fantasy because I love it, but I try to construct my fantasy worlds with all the care of a 'high-tech' science fiction writer. I apply the principle of TANSTAAFL ['There ain't no such thing as free lunch', credited to Robert Heinlein) to magic, for instance; in my worlds, magic is paid for, and the cost to the magician is frequently a high one. I try to keep my world as solid and real as possible; people deal with stubborn pumps, bugs in the porridge, and love-lives that refuse to become untangled, right along with invading armies and evil magicians. And I try to make all of my characters, even the 'evil magicians,' something more than flat stereotypes. Even evil magicians get up in the night and look for cookies, sometimes.

"I suppose that in everything I write I try to expound the creed I gave my character Diana Tregarde in Burning Water:

"There's no such thing as 'one, true way'; the only answers worth having are the ones you find for yourself; leave the world better than you found it. Love, freedom, and the chance to do some good -- they're the things worth living and dying for, and if you aren't willing to die for the things worth living for, you might as well turn in your membership in the human race."

Also writes as Misty Lackey

Author's website

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 536 reviews
Profile Image for Mir.
4,845 reviews5,002 followers
February 6, 2012
This adaptation of Beauty and the Beast cuts out the merchant father and sisters mourning their sudden impoverishment. Instead of a formerly-wealthy beauty, our heroine is the recently-orphaned daughter of a professor. Highly educated herself, but lacking family or funds, she perforce accepts a position as a governess in far-away California. But it turns out there are no children, only a Beast who needs someone to translate some dead languages...

This was a fun book. It would be better if Lackey weren't so infernally heavy-handed. Her villain, especially, is painted so uniformly black that there is no nuance. He is greedy! and shallow! and full of treachery! He likes to beat and rape virgins! He hates foreign food (cuz he's a racist; good guys in this universe always love the curry). One begins to question how the supposedly-smart master wizard was taken in by this piece of offal for so long. Of course, this is a wizard so skilled he accidentally turned himself into an alsatian...

A flawed book, but one that may be entertaining to readers with a penchant for fairy-tales retellings, the theory of the elements, or turn of the century settings.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,329 reviews29 followers
March 27, 2014
Hadn't read Lackey before, but she's prolific, and some reviews are very positive, so I was looking forward to her take on Beauty and the Beast in historic San Francisco. What a disappointment! For those who want romance, there is not so much as a kiss despite the HEA wedding -- no great loss, since I dislike the hero, Jason Cameron.

I had more respect for the heroine, Rosalind (Rose) Hawkins. But not much. Blame it on Lackey's introduction of this young bespectacled historian.

Some spoilers ahead, but twists are hidden.

In the autumn of 1905 Rose finds herself suddenly homeless in Chicago, because her father died in debt. So what does our brave girl do? After not even one night on the streets (no, not one), Rose considers suicide by laudanum, telling herself it's perfectly acceptable to do so:
"True Christian doctrine told her that suicide was a sin, but the ancients had held it no more a sin than healing a wound was."
Come again? Is this really how Lackey characterizes her scholarly heroine? Misinformed and cowardly? In fact, in Graeco-Roman society, suicide was only condoned when honor was lost, as a substitute for life imprisonment or capital punishment, or when resisting political edicts. "As an answer to petty misfortunes, suicide was frowned upon as a cowardly and disgraceful act." (source).

Thus Lackey started to lose points early on, but I continued:

Rose decides to live, accepting a job in San Francisco, working for the wealthy rail baron, Jason Cameron (aka the Fire Mage, aka the Firemaster). His spell went awry, making a beast of the man. Jason needs Rose to read ancient texts to him, so he can find the counter spell. In his hybrid state, half-man, half-wolf, his eyes cannot focus to read, his paws cannot turn pages.

So Rose reads old grimoires to Jason, becoming interested in magic herself. And becoming interested in the man on the other end of the speaking tube.

In too much detail, Lackey describes the assorted grim activities of Paul du Mond, Jason's apprenticed young sorcerer (a one-dimensional antagonist, with no variation). Paul is known in the bowels of San Francisco as the "Breaker" because he torments the hell out of young girls until they apathetically accept prostitution. Lackey describes this torture in several ugly scenarios.

But here's the kicker: The Fire Master (our supposed hero) has long known about his apprentice's sadistic pastime, choosing to overlook it until now:
"I should have had him horsewhipped out of here when I first found out about his hobby. I thought it didn't matter; after all, many Masters had little peccadilloes when they were Apprentices..."
Peccadilloes? The reason our hero feels contempt is NOT because his apprentice Paul destroys young girls, but because he is too lazy to study his magic books:
"Paul believes that he will become a Master because he deserves to be one, not because he is willing to study, work, and sacrifice. Paul is a fool."
But, wait! He's not so bad! That same lazy-ass apprentice who wouldn't study his assigned texts voluntarily studied Spanish so that he could break the Mexican girls in their own language. (Inconsistent characterization.)

The story ends strangely. Rose spends her days visiting Sunset the horse and reading ancient occult documents to Jason, seeking a way to reverse the spell. In addition, .

Writing style: Besides stepping out of character and creating flat villains, Lackey stuffs the book with trivial descriptions of Rose's clothing, the many baths she takes, the meals she is served. Such trivia bogs down the pace. Too often, words are italicized, because Lackey's readers apparently lack the wit to figure things out for themselves. In several cases, words are needlessly placed in quotes: a "proper" young lady, a "proper handshake" (how about some proper prose, Ms Lackey?)

Bias anyone? Lackey digresses from the main storyline to dazzle us for several pages with her insights about religion (not a plot spoiler, but to shorten this section): Lackey later portrays Christians trying to free the prostitutes in the cribs. Okay. Be inconsistent. Again.

What did I like? The Salamanders. I liked them a lot. I also enjoyed the scenes with the stallion, Sunset.

(But there were so many scenes with Salamanders preparing her bath and Sunset eating her apples, when instead, we could have had the plot move along, rather than rushing to a hasty end, throwing everything into the last 20%).

See, I cannot even list positives without a caveat.

Some say this is not Lackey's best effort. Ya think?
Profile Image for Mariel.
667 reviews1,047 followers
February 7, 2011
You know the old cliche of something being so bad it is good? Some cliches and stereotypes got started in the first place for a good reason. They say that to indicate the bad stuff you enjoy that gives you indigestion afterwards. Well, The Fire Rose is almost so bad it's good and then so bad it's back to being plain old bad again. Throwing up your hands in frustrated disgust bad. (I feel like those chicks from the yoghurt ads. "Good... Unbutton your pants and cut up your credit cards GOOD!") It's disgusting. I'm disgusted. ("You don't look disgusted, Mariel. You look like you like it!") I've complained about this book to my twin to the point it has taken on epic proportions between us. She hasn't even read it and can quote entire passages (which never fails to crack me up). The baddie who breaks in trafficked hookers as a hobby (he learns Spanish and Chinese just to torment the religious girls about their impurities. Couldn't he just heckle bad comedians? I personally like to heckle athletes at the park. I even did it in Spanish once. "¡Malo!"), the lover who stays the beast in the end (she prefers him that way! Those Egyptian sphinx heads were oddly attractive). There is much bad goodness here. It's an embarrassment of riches, that's what it is. Yet it is still so, so bad. It is a wonder I didn't throw it at the wall, or in the trash (my twin has thrown books of mine in the trash out of fits of dramatic disgust- before I've had the chance to read them. "That was mine!" "I'm doing you a favor!" I prefer to switch out what she is reading and replace it with The Fire Rose).

What was with the constant use of italics? Living in a college town I've had the misfortune to buy many used books that are highlighted out the ass. The italics here are about as intrusive as that. It can be fun to read the notes written in the margins. Kinda like reading a book with someone else, even if sometimes you'll start writing a school paper on it too. I wanna read for fun, damnit! In that case, it was Lackey's own fault that I criticized her book harshly. She put me in mind of school papers. And her use of italics was like those kids who highlighted the unimportant stuff and wrote margins that massively missed the point.

The magical theory was pretty good. I liked the competitive master/student relationships, and the mad science gone horribly wrong quality. The student who conned her into doing his homework was probably too realistic though (he should've written in his own margins!). Coughs not that I've ever let anyone copy off me. (I hate heroines who speak infinity languages when my Spanish is pathetic.) (Then again, I never had a good enough reason like torturing prostitutes I've broken in to motivate me. What is Spanish for you suck in bed?)
Lackey shouldn't have tried for a Beauty and the Beast tale. The point was that the Beast gets a better personality. He's still beastly AND still an animal. (And I did so want to enjoy a bestility romance...)

I've not read anything else by Ms. Lackey. Every bookshop in town has at least two shelves dedicated to her (none other than R.A. Salvatore receive that royal treatment). Where to start? Perhaps the gay robot book and I could make it a theme weekend and pair it up with Tanith Lee's Silver Metal Lover. Anyone wanna do it with me? I'd doodle gay robots in the margins of my books (don't wanna miss the point, after all).

Profile Image for Jane.
365 reviews13 followers
January 18, 2019
I was wonderfully surprised by this book. I thought it might a retailing of the Beauty and the Beast story, but I was very surprised by the ending.
It is the story of Rose Hawkins and Jason Cameron. Jason had invoked, through pride, a powerful spell that transformed him into part wolf. Rose is hired to help him translate ancient text, for he is looking to reverse his mistake.
I loved the fire salamanders character's. Also the Chinese mages.
Rose character is a strong intelligent woman, in a time women were expected to be only wives to their husbands.
Again I loved the ending. I am looking forward to the next book in this elemental series.
Profile Image for Leeanna.
538 reviews92 followers
December 30, 2015
The Fire Rose, by Mercedes Lackey

Do NOT judge this book by its cover!

"The Fire Rose" is a gem, a masterful retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story.

The Beauty is Rose Hawkins, a booksmart Chicago native working toward a doctorate at university. The Beast is Jason Cameron, a San Francisco rail baron, and a man trapped by hubris in the body of a wolf.

Left penniless when her father dies, Rose has few options for survival. She could work as a governess or a teacher, but pursuing her cherished degree is certainly out of the way. Disheartened by her situation, Rose accepts an employment offer from Jason Cameron: she will travel to San Francisco to be a governess to his children. Only when she arrives, Rose finds that Jason was lying to her: there are no children and instead she is to translate ancient alchemical books for him.

Far from being upset at the unusual situation, Rose is happy with her new life. She lives in luxury, and considers herself a research colleague rather than an employee. She is also unaware that the works she is reading to Jason are actually Magickal in content, and that Jason Cameron is a Firemaster. And Rose...she herself may have potential to do Magick.

"The Fire Rose," is to me, an almost flawless book. I've read my copy so many times the binding is worn out, and it would be a book I'd take to a desert island. Rose and Jason are two of my favorite characters of all time. I feel like they are old friends, and I dearly wish that Lackey had continued their story. "The Fire Rose" is a one book story, and has a good ending; it's just my personal (and greedy) wish for more of them.

Lackey creates a plausible magic system, and explains it over the course of the book. Because Rose reads Jason many texts, it gives the author a great way to explain how the system works. The author also pays plenty of attention to detail. "The Fire Rose" fits in perfectly with the time it is set, as all comparisons are made to period events or people. The descriptions of clothing and furnishings are sumptuous, and helped me immerse myself in the book.

There's a little of something for everybody in "The Fire Rose," and I'm always sad when I read the last page.

Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 29 books5,609 followers
May 4, 2008
I love this book. It's a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, set in San Francisco just prior to the Great Earthquake of 1906. As always, her characters are so real that I felt like they were friends immediately: smiling with them, nodding when they talked. . . . You just get drawn right into this time and these people.
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,836 reviews78 followers
June 12, 2007
I was excited as hell when I saw that Lackey had done a fairy tale retelling, as I tend to like her work, and I love fairy tale retellings.

However, I found this book rather a disappointment. Robin McKinley is 100 times more talented at the retelling, and honestly, I don't think Lackey put her best effort into this.

A decent read, but not really worth the effort.
Profile Image for Jojo.
264 reviews23 followers
November 3, 2016

An all right read, but definitely not lacking in problems. I can't even really say what I did like about it, besides the fact that I was entertained. The problems though...

1. The cover. I know, I know, don't judge a book by its cover. This one is seriously fug though.

2. Villains are never interesting when they are just pure evil. The villainy in this book was of the ridiculously mwahahaaa-so-evil variety. Ugh.

3. Okay, so this is a Beauty and the Beast retelling. In which you would think that Beauty comes to love the Beast in spite of his appearance. But in this book it totally comes off like Rose falls in love with Jason because of his appearance, and it's kind of weird. Seriously, she's all, like, "Ooh, his wolf head is so attractive. And I've always secretly thought the Egyptian gods were hot, what with their animal heads on human bodies." WHAT.

4. Jason isn't cured at the end. Which I'm fine with (and which Rose is probably happy about anyway, since she's so attracted to half-wolf-men). But it's a problem that's glossed over to make an unrealistically happy ending. I mean, Rose might think that the natives of wherever they were going to move wouldn't take more notice of Jason than any other white man, but I'm pretty sure they would if they have eyes since he's freaking half wolf. WHAT.

5. The ending is anticlimactic. Very, very anticlimactic.

6. It's much more of a romance novel than it is a fantasy. Which isn't a problem if that's what you want to read, but I found the fantasy bits much more interesting than the rather stereotypical romance bits.

I did enjoy it overall though.

But as far as Beauty and the Beast retellings go, Robin McKinley does it so much better.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Michelle.
97 reviews5 followers
May 3, 2010
Should I even get into the one dimensional Paul du Mond? The entire book, I was waiting for him to tie Rosalind to Cameron's railroad tracks, and then twist his mustache while laughing mockingly: "MWAH-ha-ha-ha-haaaa!" It's the only cliche the author missed including.

I loved Mercedes Lackey in college but sometime in my 30s I became tired of her simplistic characters, and especially of the chip she has on her shoulder regarding organized religion. If I had to read one more time that non-orthodox spirituality is "good" and orthodox religious structures (to wit: Christianity) are "bad" I believed I would vomit. It makes reading the rest of what she writes a trial.

Even in this book, a novel not at all concerned with religion in any way or form, Lackey just has to spend a page or two talking about how Christians are stupid. It has nothing to do with the book or the plot or the main characters, but let's throw it in there that Christians are stupid to use the lamb symbolism, shall we? Lackey of course shows NO knowledge of the origins of that symbol, or why it was chosen in early Christian texts. You don't have to be a religious studies scholar, but if you're going to criticize, do some basic research, or leave it out.

I also have a giant problem with books set in historical eras featuring modern characters who basically just wear old fashioned clothes. I am a huge historical fiction fan, and there was more differing women in those eras from modern women than just wearing corsets. People in earlier times had different thoughts, different attitudes, and different beliefs about life.

But here is little Rose Hawkins who, by virtue of her being smart and well read, is apparently mostly outside the cultural structures of her society. All of her attitudes and beliefs are those of modern women. Except of course, she does not care to wear bloomers and be a Suffragette. Ok then.

Not to mention, she is a Medieval scholar, oh but she is reading the classics in the original Greek and Latin, and hey happens to know lots about Egyptology as well? I think not.

The one good part about this book, and the one strength Lackey has as a writer, is the great descriptions of Magick, and other fantasy-related themes. It was the only interesting part of the whole book.

Lackey needs to stick to creating fantasy worlds, because her abilities in describing characters who live in THIS world are sadly lacking.

The one good thing about this book is, it didn't require me to think too hard. When one is in finals for grad school and just wants some brainless entertainment, Mercedes Lackey is where you head.

December 28, 2012
This book is set in the early 20th century. Rose Hawkins is a young scholar in Chicago who finds herself having to make some tough decisions after her father dies and creditors take nearly everything she has left. With no other options left to her, she accepts a position as a governess for the children of Jason Cameron, a wealthy rail baron in San Francisco. When she arrives at her new home and workplace, she discovers that Cameron wasn't entirely truthful. While he doesn't actually have children, he does need her scholarly expertise. A recent accident has made it impossible to read the books he needs to read in order to conduct his research. Rose agrees to work for him under these changed conditions, but the strange books he has her reading make her begin to wonder about the secrets Cameron is hiding.

And wonder she should - Cameron is no ordinary man, and his accident was definitely not a normal one. Cameron is an Elemental Master whose specialty is Fire. Confident in his abilities, Cameron attempted a spell that he thought would allow him to assume the form of a wolf at will. However, something went wrong, and he was left in a painful half-man, half-wolf body. He's determined to find a way to undo what he's done, but he needs help for that, which is where Rose comes in. Of course, Rose is neither stupid nor incurious, and Jason eventually finds it necessary to prove the existence of Elemental Magic to her. Rose stays by Jason, even when she discovers what his accident has done to his appearance. With an old enemy looking for any exploitable weakness, Jason needs all the friends he can get.

I have to admit, I wouldn't have minded it if Lackey had only written this one Elemental Masters book. This is by far the best in the series, with interesting and usually enjoyable characters and an almost believable romance (I'll get to that later). The "Beauty and the Beast" aspect doesn't feel at all forced, mainly because Lackey doesn't require that the book use all the details from the story (actually, she doesn't use hardly any).

The magical system was fascinating. I suppose I can see why she felt the need to write more books - this one only scratched the surface of one or two elements, leaving much more that could be explored. This book teaches readers about Elemental Magic through Rose, who becomes Jason's apprentice - it's a nice way to give readers a lot of information while keeping things from getting boring. I loved reading about the Salamanders, and I only wish Lackey had spent more time writing about the Sylphs.

The setting was also fun to read about. I can't personally say whether Lackey got all the details right, but nothing struck me as being jarringly wrong. I wasn't always a fan of Rose and Jason's many popular culture references (or what would have been popular culture back then - musicals, opera, books, etc.) - those felt a little overdone, like Lackey was trying a little too hard. I did, however, like the "life in 1905/1906" details that came up occasionally, like the tidbits about Rose's clothing, etc. Rose's trip to Chinatown was also a lot of fun.

I also enjoyed the romance in this book, although this is one of those romantic storylines that is most enjoyable if you don't think about it too much. The friendship and, eventually, love between Rose and Jason develops smoothly and naturally enough. I think what bothers me is thinking about how the mechanics of their relationship will work. Unlike "Beauty and the Beast," which ends with the Beast becoming a man again, Jason doesn't become like he once was. At one point, Jason finds himself wondering how a relationship between him and Rose could possibly work, since kissing him would be like "kissing an Alsatian," even though he's pretty much human from nipples to mid-thigh. Rose is, at first, startled and upset by Jason's appearance, but she gradually grows used to him and even finds him a little attractive, kind of like one of the Egyptian gods. This, I'm guessing, is supposed to reassure readers that she won't mind doing more than hand-holding with Jason, but I'm not buying it. Apparently, either Lackey thought a sex scene, or even kissing, would turn readers off, or maybe even she couldn't picture how things would work out, because Rose and Jason are never described as doing more than holding hands.

Some readers may also be turned off by Lackey's one-dimensional villains. Paul, Jason's apprentice and secretary, has absolutely no redeeming characteristics. Actually, the fact that Jason knew about his apprentice's horrific entertainments and did nothing is a black mark against him - if Rose ever finds out, Jason's going to be in the dog house, no pun intended. Simon, Jason's enemy, is even more one-dimensional. He's there to be both bad and (somewhat) clever, while Paul is merely bad. If you like your villains to be more than just cardboard, this is not the book for you.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, and it held up nicely to a re-read, after a few years of sitting in my bookshelves collecting dust. I think I'll just pretend that the other books in the series never happened...

(Original review, with read-alikes and watch-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)
54 reviews4 followers
July 14, 2008
I did not enjoy this book. The author took a beautiful fairy tale and tried to make it "grown-up"... which defeats the whole purpose. It was good to read, but I will never read it again. I read it in response to claims that is was "better than Beauty" by Robin Mckinley, which is SOOOO GOOOD!!! Well, I didn't like it. 3/4 of the way through it I was just reading to finish it, not because I was enthralled or wanted to know what happened. My biggest... dislikes were: 1) the beast never changed. I know Belle falls in love with him the way he is, but... I don't know... she had "magick" in the story... and he still didn't change back to a human. 2) The character depth was anything but deep. I didn't feel close to ANY of them. And I didn't care what happened to them. Rarely am I so detached when reading. I get way into things. 3) In trying to make it an adult novel, she just inserted some things that just did not need to even be in there. It was stupid. She didn't go into any great detail, thank goodness, but still. People can just be evil, wicked, bad and nasty, and we will believe you that they are that way. 4) We don't know anything about the motivations or history in between the characters. I don't know what is motivating them to do the things they are doing and that bothers me. Overall, it was an idea with potential, however it was shallow, warped, and average.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Kara.
228 reviews13 followers
July 31, 2021
What does a damsel in distress do when she meets the wolf of her dreams.
Rosalind has fallen on hard times. Her father has died and almost everything they owned has gone to pay his debts. Ready to be kicked out of her home in Chicago, a professor of her's comes to tell her of a offer of a job has come to him and it fits her qualifications perfectly. But is it too good to be true. Having nothing else at hand to keep a roof over her head she takes the offer.
Traveling by train cross country to San Francisco gives her time to consider and wonder what the two children that she is to teach are like and also wonder what the widowed father is like that is willing to spend so much money on having the children taught, especially when one is a girl.
Upon arriving in the middle of the night and dropped off at a wayside she is becoming concerned, and then when she reaches the house and no one is around except one man whom she doesn't get good feelings from she really wonders what she has gotten herself into.
Read the book, if you like a interesting approach to magic you will love the book.
Profile Image for Carien.
1,270 reviews29 followers
June 6, 2010
This book in the The Elemental Masters series is often overlooked as it is published by Baen and not by DAW as the rest is and I think that's a shame as I think this one is the best!

Now I must confess that Beauty and the Beast is one of my favourite fairytales so that might be why I love this book as it uses that fairytale as a basis for this story.

The story is set in 1905 and Lackey sure did her research to create a believable setting and her characters are all well thought out and vary from likeable to so despicable it makes your skin crawl.

All in all this is a rich and engaging story, well written and despite using a fairytale as it's basis very unique.
Profile Image for Eden.
1,720 reviews
July 19, 2020
2020 bk 239. The pre-story to the Elementals. An excellent take off on the Beauty and The Beast and as an introduction to the elementals stories. The writing was clear, no muddy details, a delight to read.
Profile Image for Katie.
668 reviews65 followers
July 23, 2021
Rating: 5/10

This is the last fairy tale retelling novel that I have on my physical shelves. I bought a batch of them about five years ago and have been working my way through them (quite slowly!). I can safely say that I did not save the best for last.

This was…fine. It’s a Beauty and the Beast retelling, which is a fairy tale I love (problematic fave, I know), but I did not love this retelling.

The main characters are kind of unlikeable, especially Jason Cameron. Rose is plucky and clever, which I do like, but she’s also pretty judgemental. That’s something she and Cameron have in common. I suppose this trait can be associated with the time the story was set and with their class, but it was still off-putting.

There are two villains in this story. One, we barely see and the other is a very one-note character. Some of the information we were given about this second villain was just revolting, honestly (content warning for rape and violence). Lackey appeared to be using that information to show us how bad he was, but it just felt jarring somehow. The other villain, as I said, barely appeared, and was rather ineffectual as a villain. We heard things about him that happened before the story began, which I didn’t see the point of. Lackey could have shown us why he was a threat on the page, which she never did effectively.

I know this is sort of a preliminary work in a new series, so I wonder if some of the false steps in this book were a practice run for the series, but I don’t have particular plans to try the full series, as I didn’t really get on with this one.

I thought the magic was interesting, and the setting, and I liked how the Beast’s dilemma was worked out, but that’s about all.

I found the way it was written, with the characters’ thoughts written out on the page (it happened a lot) quite cumbersome. It slowed the story down a lot. It also hindered communication between the characters. By the end of the story, there are still things Rose doesn’t know that Cameron was doing before, and even after, they became friends. For example, he was spying on her with magic, which I thought was creepy. Lackey makes a point of telling us he doesn’t do it when she’s bathing or undressed, but still - yuck. It’s always icky when you come out of a story feeling like the heroine shouldn’t trust the hero.

I also disliked Cameron’s secretiveness and the idea of him using Rose. Some of that gets resolved, but not acceptably enough for me to be comfortable with them as romantic partners. I also don’t think the romance was well set up.

I didn’t hate this, but it’s not my favourite Beauty and the Beast retelling by a long way. I didn’t like it particularly well either. The best word I can use to describe how I felt about this is ‘indifferent’, so five out of ten.

Blog: awonderfulbook.com | Instagram: katiemotenbooks | Twitter: katiemotenbooks
Profile Image for Rachmi .
929 reviews77 followers
February 16, 2015
3.5 stars

This Beauty and the Beast retelling reminds me of Jane Eyre, in a way. Rose, the heroine, is like Jane Eyre, is so determine to have the same position with Jason Cameron, the hero, even when he is her employer. She's highly educated, smart and witty and a bookworm too. I cannot help not to love her. Jason is also easy to love, though I have to admit that I don't like the way he’s keeping an eye on her. It isn't a good thing to do, if you ask me.

These lovable main characters make me enjoy reading this book. Add it with the writing. It's so descriptive and clear I can picture the magic and the worldbuilding easily. The magick is also awesome. There are different kinds of magick, western and eastern magick. I especially liked the way Rose and Jason interact with each other. It isn't instant or whatsoever. So when they fall in love it just makes sense to me.

However I feel the story is too long it's dragged on in some part, especially in the middle of the story. And it's quite slow for my taste. I have to force myself to keep reading it and need more time to finish it than I usually do with this kind of book. It’s an enjoyable reading though. And surely won’t be my last one from the author. I’m thinking to read her other books sooner than later.
829 reviews1 follower
October 24, 2015
This book felt rather like it was written by a teenaged girl as Beauty and the Beast fanfiction without an editor. The villain was totally one dimensional and stupid. There were glaring gaps in continuity and so many plots that were started but not properly followed up upon. The worst example was a Chinese herbalist who gives Rose four packets of four different colors and then she uses the wrong colored packet in the next scene and the other three packets are never mentioned again.

But despite all the horrible aspects and lack of workmanship, I somehow still enjoyed the book. Perhaps it is the teenage girl in me... it is a sweet romance and I wanted to and did root for the romance and enjoy seeing the heroes triumph in their own way.

There is an interesting magic system hinted at here, but as I think in all of Mercedes Lackey's books (like the Valdemar series) it never really is explained or given any real depth. It's just something cute for girls to squeal over.

She is a master of romantic fantasy and fun to read, but this book seems to be the worst example of her pandering and condescending to her readers.
Profile Image for Heather.
613 reviews
March 15, 2013
So each time I reread this book, I think I like it a little less. For one thing, random quotation marks are everywhere and random quotation marks drive me INSANE. Rose was too smart to be a "proper" "lady" and the "good" "Christians" objected to her "modern" ideas. Arg! Death to random quotation marks! For another thing, ML has certain canned rants about religion and the oppression of women that get old, especially because they're not particularly sophisticated canned rants. I've started skipping over those bits.

I've decided, though, that the parts I really like are the descriptions of clothes and food and decorating. (This probably explains why I read Betty Neels -- whose books are nothing but descriptions of clothes and food and decorating.) Thinking over other ML's that I've read, I think description is what she does best. I've never found her dialogue enormously convincing.
351 reviews16 followers
July 2, 2022
Accepting employment as a governess after hard times hit her family, medieval scholar Rosalind Hawkins is surprised when she learns that her mysterious
employer has no children and only wants her to read to him through a speaking tube. What secrets is her employer hiding behind the tube? what magical abilities does he have?
this book took a while to get started. Once I settled myself down to read it, though, I really enjoyed it. I was kind of disappointed in the narration of this book. Kristin alison is normally one of my favorite narrators, but her narration of this book wasn't as animated as I have heard her do in the past. Overall, though, this was a good book with well-drawn characters. I am definitely compelled to read more of these books where I can find them. Also, this was meant for young adult readers, I believe, and I can see how they would find it enchanting.
Profile Image for M.M. Strawberry Library & Reviews.
4,032 reviews329 followers
May 20, 2017
While not the best version of Beauty and the Beast that I ever read, this book is a good read in its own right. This book is technically part of the Elemental Masters series, even if it's not actually stated as so. Rose is a delightful character, a rare woman in Victorian society who wants more but is constrained to the rules set for her gender.

Her interaction with the Beast was appropriate given the circumstances, and this book was overall a good read with the action and dialogue. Please don't be turned off by the terrible cover!
Profile Image for Graylark.
884 reviews42 followers
May 10, 2019
Retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Was a good read, but last chapter felt like a letdown after all the buildup. Ended with a fizzle rather than a bang.

Also, I don't know what the blurb writer was smoking, but "Jason's enemy offers to restore Rosalind's family fortune if she will betray Jason" was not in the book.
Profile Image for Darnell.
1,055 reviews
May 25, 2017
I had some issues with how this book was constructed, but Lackey's writing is good enough that I still enjoyed it anyway. Considering this is a precursor to the real series, I'm definitely interested in reading more.
Profile Image for Aphelia.
341 reviews43 followers
December 20, 2018
This is a light read that drags a bit around the middle and doesn't finish as strongly as it could have, which was a little disappointing.

The Fire Rose is a loose retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, set in Victorian San Francisco. It is part of Lackey's long running Elemental Masters series but can be read as a standalone. Indeed, I'm not sure why this novel is classified so oddly; it seems to be the 1st in the Elemental Masters series, but when it's listed with that series, it's usually designated as #0!

I have previously read:
#1. The Serpent's Shadow,
#4. The Wizard of London and
#5. Reserved for the Cat.

Like Lackey's Five Hundred Kingdom series (starting with The Fairy Godmother), each book is based on a fairy tale and although the books are connected they can easily be read out of order.

I had hoped that it would shed more light on the Elemental Magic system. Although the magic system is still rather vague and confusing, the basic order is this: there are mages who can control one of the Four Elements, and each element is embodied in "magickal" creatures called "Elementals". Fire Masters control Salamander Elementals, Air Masters control Sylphs, Earth Masters control Gnomes and Water Masters control Undines. Masters of opposite elements (e.g. Fire and Water) are natural enemies. Masters are also territorial and two Masters of the same type cannot live near each other. If a Master loses control of his or her Elementals, the Elementals will cause catastrophic damage (fires, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes).

Jason Cameron is a reclusive Firemaster, stuck in a monstrous half-man, half-wolf form since he attempted a transformation spell that went awry, due to self-confessed hubris and boredom. Having long ago Mastered his element, he wanted a challenge and ended up in agony. He cannot go to his fellow Masters for help, as it would expose weakness and leave him and his territory open to challenge.

His new form, with it's paws and weak eyesight, makes the research needed to find a cure impossible. So he gets his Salamanders to identify someone who can help him, and enlists Rosalind Hawkins, a scholar and linguist, to come to the house. Having been recently orphaned by her absent-minded professor of a father who proved to be seriously in debt, Rose is penniless and in dire circumstances: she cannot refuse, and Jason makes use of that, which is despicable.

He pretends to be in need of a tutor for imaginary children, and when Rose arrives, he pretends to be an invalid who couldn't tell her the truth. They communicate via speaking horn, and although the arrangements are strange, Rose is quickly caught up in the mysteries surrounding her and takes real pleasure in her studies. Her quick mind and humour endear her to Jason, and when he senses "magickal" capabilities for Air within her, he makes Rose his Apprentice.

Rose has everything she could want - beautiful living quarters, an amazing and rich wardrobe, rare books and meaningful work that she loves. But she can't shake a feeling of menace, and when Jason's current Apprentice and Agent in the outside world decides that Rose is taking his place, he decides to do something about it.

The first 2/3 of the book is taken up with the delicate dance between Jason and Rose. Jason, at first, is a conceited bore. He worries Rose will dress too plainly for his painstakingly decorated luxurious house! He wants a dull, biddable female who will read his odd books without interest and do what she's told. Ha! Little does he know. Used to controlling everything via his magic - he watches Rose's movements at all times from the mirrors in his study - he doesn't know quite what to make of stubborn, determined, obstinate Rose.

For her part, Rose is not a romantic. She wants to be left to her books, and her greatest dream in life is to return to University and finish her studies. Yet she cannot help being intrigued by Jason Cameron and the odd magical texts he has her read to him, and when she learns his true identity, she does not shy away disgust. Watching them learn to trust each other is entertaining.

However, the character of Apprentice Paul du Mond is problematic. Although Lackey takes great pains to depict him as a vile, hideous man - and succeeds - he is a lackluster villain. Greedy with terrible sexual appetites, he is manipulated by Jason's longtime foe, fellow Firemaster Simon Beltaine, by those very depravities. Simon promises Paul an easier entry into Elemental Mastery - Aleister Crowley variety sex "magick". It's not clear why Jason and Simon detest each other but Simon decides, rather oddly, to use Rose to strike at Jason.

Some unanswered questions:

Overall, an enjoyable read that was marred by a lackluster ending. The ending was also very abrupt and it was very disappointing that after all the waltzing around their feelings we don't get to see much of Jason and Rose as a happy couple. After the Big Battle, we move right into a too short Epilogue. Even a few more pages showing their future would have made a huge difference.

Recommended to any reader who, like me, loves fairy tale retellings!
Profile Image for Chloe.
315 reviews4 followers
February 16, 2023
No, no, no, nope. No. I’m so close to the end but I just can’t do it anymore. The awfulness of this book just builds and builds until it becomes unbearable. The beginning was intriguing and I thought that it would be an enjoyable cosy fantasy but it just steadily declined after the first 50 or so pages. And the decline just got steeper and steeper.

First, the least of this book’s sins: Rose (the protagonist) has massive “Not like other girls” energy. This is demonstrated in many ways, the most absurd of which is through food. Rose doesn’t eat dainty lady’s meals like toast, no, instead she eats masculine foods like lettuce. These are two real examples of two specific foods that get unnecessarily gendered in this book. Who knew that toast was the most feminine breakfast food? Not me!

I also had the misapprehension going into this book that it was a fantasy. Therefore I expected at least some action and, well, plot. Instead there are hints to action that never happens (unless it all kicks off in the last 50 pages of 430). This book is not a fantasy novel. This book is a furry romance in disguise. Except Mercedes Lackey goes to great pains to emphasise that Jason does not resemble an animal from the waist to the top of his thighs. In other words, Mercedes Lackey is too cowardly to completely commit to the furry romance and give Jason a massive furry wolf c*ck.

Speaking of Jason, you know your male love interest is a bad person when the villain — the only other male character — has to be the most evil, vile man on the face of the Earth who kills and brutalises sex workers in ways too horrific for the book to even describe, just to make Jason look like a better person. This book is technically a Beauty and the Beast retelling, and if you’ve seen the Disney movie, you’ll remember the magic mirror which allows Beast to see Belle. Except Jason can see Rose at all times in this book and seems to constantly watch her — except when she’s in the bathroom, don’t worry. He does watch her when she’s in her bedroom, though. To add to this, later in the book Rose conducts her first magic ritual with Jason’s help. The purpose of this ritual is to summon a unicorn. Jason takes Rose’s glasses away from her at the very start of this ritual so she can see nothing except some vague white blurs. He gives her no reason for this. My cynical brain thinks this is just Mercedes Lackey’s way to cop out of the task of describing what the magic looks like but it also means that Rose is almost completely excluded from experiencing this amazing magic. Of course she spins it in her brain to be him doing it for her own good, but to me it seems to be him exerting power over her just because he can. Maybe Rose doesn’t see this because she also has massive “I can fix him” energy.

Oh, also, this book is racist in ways that range from micro aggression (“Oh WOW, this Chinese man speaks English SO well!”) to full out aggression (Did I mention that the sex workers the villain brutalises/kills are all either Chinese or Mexican?). In yet another example of how shitty Jason is, he contemplates enslaving Chinese people — but it’s fine, because he’ll treat them well. 🙃

This book has such an amazing concept — Beauty and the Beast in the historical setting of 1800s San Francisco — but what a horrible, horrible execution.
Profile Image for Claudia.
1,199 reviews35 followers
June 27, 2020
Based off the fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast, this is the first of Lackey's series of the Elemental Masters. It is even said to be #0 for those that follow it.

But it is still definitely part of that series. Upon her father's death and financial ruin, Rose Hawkins must leave Chicago so she takes a job as a governess for two children in ancient languages - namely Greek and Latin - and travels to turn-of-the-20th-century San Francisco to the home of railroad baron, Jason Cameron. Only it's a lie. There are no children. Jason has suffered a disfiguring accident and needs a reader of various ancient and medieval languages to help him with his research. The accident - he tries to perform a spell that would change himself into a wolf and it went horribly wrong.

Of course, there is the threat not only in the form of Cameron's apprentice/secretary but in another Firemaster in the area who refuses to share the territory. There is some interesting interaction between Hawkins, Cameron and a Chinese Earthmaster/doctor/herbalist. This gives an interesting look into the Far Eastern version of the Elemental Masters that Lackey didn't seem to investigate any further. Instead of Earth, it is Dragons. Fire becomes Phoenix and Air becomes Eagles. No mention was made of water but the Spiritual element showed up as a Unicorn.

As I said, many elements that she could investigate further.

Anyway, the end occurs even as the 1904 San Francisco great quake occurs. The villains are defeated. The heroine survives and achieves her mastery under a Chinese AirMaster. The hero doesn't quite become the handsome prince but then, one thing Lackey does repeat in nearly all her tales: to look beneath the physical covering and beyond stereotypes.

Profile Image for MargaretDH.
991 reviews17 followers
July 2, 2019
I've always thought that if I had to relive a fairy-tale, I'd like it to be Beauty and the Beast. I love books, so the big library appeals to me, and I'm pretty good at solitude, so that part wouldn't freak me out too much. Plus, who wants to do dishes and laundry for seven dudes? Or sleep so long everyone you know is dead? And I do love swimming, so having a tail would be cool, but I'm less into the part where I lose my voice and walk on knives.

Anyway, I'm not much for straight up romance, but every now and then I get a craving for some fantasy-romance or mystery-romance (both preferably with historical elements), and this was PERFECT for my fantasy-romance needs. I mostly read this outside in the sun, and there was just enough plot to keep me going, plus some fun-but-not-too-complicated magic. Plus, the Beast is a super rich dude, so there's a ton of beautiful clothes, delicious food and luxurious rooms to read about. Also, I thought the romance was fairly well done. You see why they like each other, and there's not too many misunderstandings, or people who refuse to say their feelings out loud.

If you like fairy tale retellings, and if you like your romance jazzed up with fantastical elements and corsets, this is a ton of fun. If all of that sounds stupid to you, definitely don't pick this up.
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