Beauty and the Clockwork Beast
I love when the different elements of a story combine to create something greater than its whole. The strong hero and his brainy heroine. The setting you can jump right into. The storyline that is both familiar and yet strikingly new. Beauty and the Clockwork Beast weaves all of these things into a wry and unexpected fairy tale retelling.
Lucy Pickett is the kind of no-nonsense friend that you would expect to save you from the scandalous advances of a Scottish rogue while simultaneously being the smartest person in the room. So of course, when her cousin Kate Blake falls ill to a mysterious ailment, she summons Lucy to Blackwell Manor to see if she can use her botanical knowledge to help find a cure. But when Lucy arrives, all is not as it seems. Ghosts lurk the halls, vampires are roaming the countryside, and the biggest brute of them all happens to be the Lord of the Manor, Miles Blake, the Earl of Blackwell.
Having returned from war both physically and emotionally scarred, Lord Blackwell relishes the frenzied rumors that swirl around him and keep him apart from society. His wife passed away inexplicably very shortly after their marriage (and right on the heels of his sister’s death) and there’s talk of a family curse – one that may very well have been passed on to the newest Mrs. Blake, Kate (who is married to Miles’ brother, Jonathan)
As Lucy rushes to find a cure to an ever-increasingly complex illness, she continues to butt heads with the Lord of the Manor. She knows he is hiding something up in his tower but what is it, and why? And now things are even more complicated as she finds herself catching glimpses beneath the mask to find not a beast, but a troubled and tormented man.
The interactions (both verbal and non-verbal) between Lucy and Miles are one of the best parts of the book as they circle each other, each strong, determined yet wary of the other. The Victorian setting lends itself well to the underlying mystery and tension, and subplots involving steam-powered devices and botanical anti-venoms are interesting without being overbearing.
Perhaps the only place where the story falters is in the resolution of the plot. Allen excels at building the tension and making readers feel ill at ease in the Manor, and yet, when we find out what is really going on, the payoff is a deus ex machina and things are wrapped up rather too conveniently for my taste.
In so many ways, a good fairytale retelling can be even more difficult to get right than an original work; the author has to balance what we already know with what he or she wants to surprise us with. Allen handles this balance deftly, and leaves the reader wanting to know more about her multi-faceted characters. (So it’s fortunate for us that several of them are featured in future books in the series). And the development of Lucy and Miles’ relationship is subtle, but so rewarding when you watch each of them pull the best out of the other. Beauty and the Clockwork Beast is an atmospheric and witty romance that has just the right amount of gothic mystery and period detail, and I’m happy to recommend it.
Buy it at: Amazon / Audible or shop at your local independent bookstore
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