Jean, 39, lover of sci-fi, horror and fantasy, reader of comic books, conqueror of genre fiction.
A shockingly adequate middle-of-the-road book. I enjoyed it, but don't have the desire to even really think about it again.
The pros: I'd read in advance that this was one of the weakest of Mercedes Lackey's Five Hundred Kingdoms books, and proceeded anyway--it was a mash-up of Beauty and the Beast and Little red Riding Hood, how could I stay away?! But the canon introduced in the book interested me enough that I'd definitely seek out one of the better ones to read. The idea of The Tradition, an invisible and irresistible force that causes the inhabitants of the 500 Kingdoms to take on roles and tropes from fairy tales. When the main character is informed of this, she becomes self-conscious of how every decision she makes seems to be pushing her one way or another, which was actually the most amusing part of the book. When she realizes that she's falling for woodsman Eric's sob story of being a bullied bastard of a duke, she feels herself being pushed into that age-old tale of the maiden who falls in love with the rake, and resists it, because she knows that that can't possibly end well. Her answer is to try to dress and act like a boy, until she starts considering how that's a trope, as well, the soldier who falls in love with the page he doesn't realize is a girl in disguise.
Cons: I liked the sense of humor. I mean, obviously, just looking at the title, it's going to be on the humorous side. The problem being, I didn't feel that it was funny enough. What I mentioned in the pros section? Was the funniest part, and then the rest sort of took itself a bit too seriously.
Also, this is a romance, right? Because we spend a whole lot of time with Bella and Eric, the villain she's trying to win over, and not so much with Sebastian, the titular werewolf/Beast. Most of her time with him is "off screen," which also resulted in me saying, "Wait, she learned magic?! When?!" These are important things to skip over and assume that the reader will fill in the blanks.
So many unanswered questions! Granny serves no other purpose than to fulfill the role in Red Riding Hood (though not towards the end, when common sense would have had me thought that the werewolf would attack and try to eat her, but after she visits the castle, she's never heard from again.) Why did Sebastian stop attacking her after he bit her if it took all of her magic to bring human sense into his wolf form at the climax? Why was he howling mournfully? My early theory was that it was because she was his mate, and having her close tormented him, but I guess I'm just supposed to go with Eric's assertion that it's because she's his prey, because, though she brings it up as odd, she then leaves it there to sit. Who's following Bella in the woods and why? Who is Granny frightened of eavesdropping? (The answer to both of these is Eric, though it's never explained, and never explained why Godmother Elena shows up at the end and basically goes, "I knew it!" when no one gave any sort of indication they suspected Eric in the least.)
So, the war at the end. That's real? Or is it Eric manipulating his half-brother into giving him control of his affairs before he kills him? What's the point of it other than that? And if it was only manipulation, why was the Godmother with the king, supposedly to speak of the war? (The end of the book turns into kind of a mess, but it's more exciting than the rest of the novel, so....) Wouldn't anyone find it suspicious that the curse changed and Eric was the only survivor? Why does Bella take responsibility for magicking Eric? Is she thinking of the Tradition? Then it's not really her fault and he is really in love with her, which is sort of heartbreaking.
Eric. No one suspected. At all? Even though it's obvious in the first ten pages? We have a complete motive in the first sixty pages. The Godmother claims to have known, but needed details (how much more did she need to know?!) but her and Granny tell Bella to get close to him anyway? Why couldn't the invisibles just tell her it was Eric? How did they think they'd protect her? (Though I have to say, the reveal of what they really are, though a bit obvious, was pretty cool and goes in the pros column!)
I liked Bella at first. She was a little fussy, but I like all different kinds of heroines, and her practicality won me over. Until she started riding Sebastian; she is his victim, but as much as she bemoaned how hard it would be for her, she never considered that it's been that difficult for him since it happened in his teens. NOT. ONCE. No empathy whatsoever. And then her bellying him into society felt like telling someone with severe social anxiety that it'll be better if they just do it; they'll get over it. I didn't see it as a positive thing. But when they were together, it was romantic. So I am a little torn there.
Oh my God, the cover. This is the second Mercedes Lackey book I've read in a row with a godawful photo-realistic cover. In her biography, it says that her husband is an artist, and I really hope it isn't him doing it, and she'll return to the lovely art of her early books, like the exquisite covers of the Valdemar series.
Despite all the cons, it was fun. It was silly, it fulfilled a need, to be entertained. But was, in the long run, forgettable.