Beauty and the Werewolf
Mercedes Lackey’s fabulous worldbuilding in her Five Hundred Kingdoms novels always entertains. Her wonderful sly humor and brilliant use of tradition definitely prevail over a predictable plot device.
Isabella Beauchamps is a wonderful stepdaughter to Genevieve and step-sister to Amber and Pearl; it is her influence that keeps Tradition from turning her situation into a Cinderella story. Not that Bella realizes this, since she is unaware of this driving force that is attracted to magic and attempts to mold people’s lives to fit the verbal stories passed down from one generation to another. You and I know them as fairytales, but for Tradition, they are life’s blueprints.
So Bella, ignorant of this powerful force, goes about her day to day activities, providing counter-balance to Genevieve’s frivolous and status-seeking influence. She manages the household with ease, but makes it seem that Genevieve has the control. After making sure that her family is safely occupied and the household running smoothly, Bella decides it is time to see Granny. Granny is Herb Woman, and some think she is a witch, but Granny refuses to say. Granny teaches Bella the art of herbs and healing. So donning her bright red hooded cloak and taking a basket of goodies, off to Granny’s she goes.
While on the way there, she encounters the Gamekeeper and Woodsman, Eric von Teller, a boorish overbearing oaf in charge of protecting Duke Sebastian’s lands. After he attempts to bully and frighten her, she lets him know that as the daughter of Master Trader Henri Beauchamp, she deserves respect. Upon reaching Granny’s, Bella spends her time coming up with a plan to dampen Eric’s harassment since they both know he will not be dismissed, which leads to gossip about the Duke and his reason from withdrawing from society, and of course more lessons on healing. Not realizing the passage of time, it is dark when Bella leaves Granny’s for home.
On the way home, Bella is attacked by a lone wolf. She fights him off, but he manages to inflict a bite. With the pain, Bella lets out a scream, which seems to startle and shock him, as if he didn’t realize that he was attacking a human. After he runs away, Bella makes her way home. As luck would have it, one of the doctors that attends her step-mother is at the house. He treats her wound while Bella begs him not to tell her father for fear that she will never be able to leave the village again. He agrees not to divulge the attack to her father, but informs her that the law requires that the sheriff be told of all animal attacks.The next morning even before dawn, her home is invaded by the King’s men. After confirming that she was indeed bitten by a wolf, they whisk her away and deposit her at Duke Sebastian’s manor. Long before arriving, Bella reasons out the reason for their strange behavior. She has been bitten by a werewolf.
Duke Sebastian lost both his parents by the time he was sixteen. After their death, he inherited a comfortable, but not excessive living. He lived at court until he was eighteen. He was active at court until his nineteenth birthday, when he withdrew from society. Now Bella knows the reason why, since a very apologetic Sebastian greets her at the manor, and informs her that he is the werewolf that bit her. He also tells her that she must stay at the manor for three months to make sure that his bite hasn’t turned her.
Bella also encounters Eric again. And while it isn’t talked about, his obvious resemblance to the old Duke means that most have guessed that he is bastard brother of the present Duke. Living a life being neither a servant nor a noble has made him arrogant, especially since he was in charge of the Dukedom before Sebastian reached his manhood.
Bella is my favorite type of heroine – competent, intelligent, capable, and not afraid of confrontation. She is highly infuriated that the King and others knew a werewolf was in their midst and didn’t inform the public. And while she rebels against having her life completely disrupted she sees the wisdom of the king’s actions, since she doesn’t want to harm her beloved father. She doesn’t make it easy for Sebastian, but she is not a shrew either. Plus, after her initial qualms she handles the Duke’s unusual household with aplomb. She is wise enough to know that situations are not always what they seem. Shaggy, spectacled and scholarly Sebastian seems truly remorseful but is he? Eric has an explanation for his brutish behavior, but is he just being manipulative?
It took all my willpower not to jump ahead to discover the hero of the story. I had my suspicions along with the origination of the curse. Still even with that, Ms.Lackey kept me turning the pages with her stellar characterization. Bella is up for the challenge of outwitting Tradition and claiming her own happily ever after, not merely one manufactured for her.
If you haven’t read this series before, then this book can be read as a standalone, but since the Godmother is a part of the story, it makes it more enchanting knowing her history, and the history of Tradition. I can easily recommend Ms. Lackey’s clever deviation of one our most told childhood tales.