Beauty and the Werewolf is Mercedes Lackey’s latest visit to the Five Hundred Kingdoms. As always, the adventure is well worth the trip.
The Five Hundred Kingdoms is a land where “The Tradition” that invests, or perhaps infests, traditional storytelling has taken on a life of its own, to the point where the tropes actually have the power to force people to conform to those stories.
But sometimes it doesn’t work. Cinderella can only become Cinderella if there is a Prince of the right age to rescue her. Otherwise she’s a drudge forever. In the Five Hundred Kingdoms, those who can see “The Tradition” at work, and outwit it, become either mages or Fairy Godmothers. The first book in the Five Hundred Kingdoms series is The Fairy Godmother, and is well worth reading. Elena is definitely not a traditional fairy godmother!
Beauty and the Werewolf is a trope bender. It starts out as another Cinderella. Bella has two stepsisters, and her stepmother is a little vain and a little foolish. But Bella took her stepsisters under her wing, and Bella manages the household quite successfully. She is not a drudge. She is not abused. She avoided the Cinderella trap.
Bella visits Granny out in the woods, and stays late enough that she has to come home through the woods after dark. Bella’s already had two run ins with Eric, the Gamekeeper, and they’ve both been distasteful. Eric is a nasty piece of work. He victimizes any women he meets, knowing that most women are of a lower station that he is. Bella is a wealthy merchant’s daughter, and he can’t treat her the same. I thought the story was leaning toward Red Riding Hood, with Eric as the Big Bad Wolf. He was just right for it.
Then Bella got bitten by a werewolf on the way home from Granny’s. It turns out the werewolf is actually the local Duke. He’s been suffering under a curse for the past few years, becoming a werewolf every month since he turned 19. He wasn’t bitten. The Godmother can’t figure out who cursed him. But now that he’s bitten Bella, Bella has to stay in his castle with him, until they figure out whether Bella will also become a werewolf. And guess what? Eric is the Duke’s Gamekeeper. And his illegitimate brother. And his only contact with the outside world. And a jerk.
With the help of an enchanted mirror, Bella and the Godmother are able to see what “The Tradition” wants her to do. Most of those stories involved some pretty sad endings for Bella. “The Tradition” doesn’t care about the people, it only cares about fulfilling the story. But while Bella was busy protecting herself from Eric the jerk, she was also helping Duke Sebastian research his curse. Bella and Sebastian spent a lot of time together while Bella learned about magic and Sebastian just got to enjoy having someone else around besides Eric the jerk.
So Bella may have been thoroughly protected from the story of “The Rake’s Reward” but she was not in the least armored against “Beauty and the Beast”.
Escape Rating A: This story rides on whether or not you want to spend time with Bella. I did. Bella is very managing. She manages her family, she manages her time, she manages her life. Getting bitten is probably the best thing that happens to her, and possibly them. She gets a vacation!
I’m serious, in a way. Once she and her father are able to communicate, she is able to enjoy herself. She is also in a position to take a look at her life, and make some real discoveries. Learning about “The Tradition” is a real eye-opener. It’s been trying to manage her exactly the way she’s been managing her family. She doesn’t like it at all.
There is a lovely nod to the Disney movie, without being cloying. There are invisible servants. They don’t talk, but they can move objects, and some the loyal servants who were cursed with Sebastian. Very nicely done.