This was certainly not the best of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series, but (in my opinion) it was one of the better ones (even though it is the last one). As it stands, the previous book in the series The Sleeping Beauty is still my favorite. This one would come as a not-so-close second.
Bella Beauchamps is your typical Mary Sue heroine with modern-day ideals living in a fantasy era of fairy tales during historical times. She is described as being a little unconventional as compared to the rest of "society", but that's because she's intelligent, thinks outside the box, independent, and a take-charge type person... as opposed to the Noble Court doormats that the rest of the girls in the book are described as, apparently... or something like that.
During one of her visits to Granny's house, she is attacked by a werewolf and bitten on the ankle. Following, she is whisked off by the King's guards to be imprisoned in Redbuck Manor to learn that the werewolf who had bitten her was none other than the Duke Sebastian who is also a wizard and an ally of the Godmothers and a hermit. Of course, as far as fairy tales go, Sebastian's werewolf transformation is a conundrum because he did not acquire his problem the traditional way (being bitten by another werewolf) and so now there is a big wide research and investigation going on with all magic folk to figure out what happened to him.
As for Bella, she is to remain in Redbuck Manor with Sebastian for monitoring until it is proven that the werewolf bite won't also turn her into a lycanthrope. As a spin on the tale, Bella is also recruited to aid in the investigation to determine the cause of Sebastian's sudden transformation into a werewolf which is most probably a curse (a fact that is pointed out at least twice before we finally confirm it).
It's a different twist on the Beauty and the Beast story, I'll say; and a promising one at that.
However, I can sum up my thoughts on Beauty and the Werewolf with four simple points:
- As is with Mercedes Lackey, the book is written well. There are randomly spread out highly amusing quips, the narration is smooth, the story progression is good, and the tale was not bad. Unfortunately, the telling of the tale is very emphatic about pointing out points that the reader could have deduced easily... but just in case you can't, let's keep emphasizing the points until you're certain you've got the point... repeatedly.
(What the heck happened, Ms. Lackey? The last book was so good!)
- The characters were good characters... but that's pretty much it about them.
Bella was your typical independent, "I can manage by myself and I'm better than everyone else" heroine, who is practical and ultra-Mary Sue. To be honest, while I like that Bella is intelligent and able, I think we maybe put too much emphasis on her personality and her modern femme fatale traits; in the end, they didn't seem to be significant. (By the way, did I mention that Bella is unconventional and is described as "not fitting into the norm of girls in the story line's society"? Because I don't think the book mentioned it enough...)
Sebastian was adorable in that dorky, "I'm not an alpha male, but you love me anyway"... way; I certainly loved him and found his nerdiness endearing. But that's about it for him.
The rest of the characters were simply... there.
- The story line was a good attempt at retelling Beauty and the Beast with random scatterings of different other beloved tales to spice up the background (Red Riding Hood, Cinderella or whichever other millions of fairy tales that involve an "evil" stepmother). Unfortunately, even with Lackey's own spin to the story, it was extremely predictable and hardly worth much of a thought.
- The only mystery to me were the invisible servants; I found myself wondering about them a lot during the story. However, I probably wouldn't have thought much about them if the story didn't lead me to wonder about them in a rather pointed fashion. The fact that the invisible Spirit Elementals were acting out of the norm had been brought up so many times with so much emphasis that you couldn't help but start thinking about them. The narration was practically screaming, "Hey, think about THIS plot point! It's not really that significant in the long run, but it's here and it's something to think about and you need to wonder about it!"
Conclusion: Three "good" points plus a random pointless point really just makes a mediocre book for me since there was nothing outstanding about this book. It was enjoyable and not at all bad, but still a bit "meh".