Colleen's Reviews > Beauty and the Werewolf

Beauty and the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey
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Oct 24, 2011

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Beauty and the Werewolf is the sixth and latest installment in the Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms presented by the talented Mercedes Lackey. Like last year’s Sleeping Beauty, Lackey is building fairy tales on the well known and well-traveled landscapes we all know, and then throwing a hard left-right that leaves all of the figures scrambled and everyone saying someone else’s lines.

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.

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