Mercedes Lackey’s newest entry in her long-running “Tales of the 500 Kingdoms” series is BEAUTY AND THE WEREWOLF. The 500 Kingdoms series is all about “the Tradition,” always capitalized, and how the stories that constitute the Tradition can either help or hinder any given person.
In this case, the heroine is Isabella (called “Bella”) Beauchamps; she has two step-sisters and a step-mama, and while her father loves her very much, he seems to take a rather hands-off approach to parenting. This might be because Bella is of legal age — she’s a young adult, maybe nineteen or twenty, and she’s used to running her father’s household as she feels her step-mama can’t be bothered to do anything.
Now, what the Tradition would normally do with someone in Bella’s situation isn’t pretty, which might be why the first time Bella is exposed to any magic, she’s bitten by a werewolf. However, this turns out to be a blessing in disguise because the werewolf is none other than Duke Sebastian, a young, eligible man who’s also a wizard. Because Sebastian, while in wolf form, bit Bella, she’s confined along with him at his rather reclusive estate. And as Sebastian is a magician and a scholar — and isn’t the type to take advantage of the situation, either — this actually works out well.
However, there’s a rogue agent in this romantic fantasy, and that’s Eric, Sebastian’s Gamekeeper. Eric is one of the old Duke’s by-blows, and while he’s not quite an acknowledged bastard (as if he were, he’d have probably been given some land or a house or something else of his own), everyone knows who Eric’s father was because Eric looks quite a bit like the old Duke.
Yet Bella doesn’t have any idea what Eric’s about; she just knows she doesn’t care for Eric, and researches ways within the Tradition to keep him away from her. (Eric has an eye for the ladies, isn’t chaste, and is the “love ’em and leave ’em” type, though he doesn’t seem to be overly abusive or violent — just not very discerning.) And because she, too, has a gift for magic, she’s able to assist Sebastian with his researches — and all that proximity pays big dividends, in the end.
As with any of the other Tales of the 500 Kingdoms (some others include THE FAIRY GODMOTHER, ONE GOOD KNIGHT, and FORTUNE’S FOOL), the romance here is never in doubt. But watching it develop is part of the fun, as it’s particularly well-drawn here; the romance emerges out of the characterization, a nifty touch that I appreciated.
The only question I had about three-quarters of the way through the book was, “When will Eric’s perfidy finally be exposed? And why is he so nasty, anyway?” And while I’m not going to reveal these answers (it just wouldn’t be fair), I will say that I enjoyed the answers when all was finally revealed.
This is a good story with believable, well-drawn characters, and contains a realistic romance. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and believe that if you’re in the mood for a light romance — one that enjoys gently tweaking and twisting traditional fairy tales into something a bit more modern — you’ll enjoy it, too.
— reviewed by Barb