When Beauty Tamed the Beast (#63 on AAR's Top 100 Romances)
In When Beauty Tamed the Beast, Eloisa James’ second fairy tale based novel, our hero is Dr. Gregory House, the TV doctor with the crotchety brilliant medical mind. OK, so our hero isn’t actually Gregory House. He’s Piers Yelverton, the Earl of Marchant, and he practices his snarky, deductive medicine in a huge castle in Wales, but he’s essentially House complete with cane, problematic familial relationships, debilitating pain, and a very nasty tongue. Piers, like House, is a Beast.
The caustic Piers lives a life of self-imposed exile in his castle turned hospital in Wales. He was severely injured when young and suffers from chronic pain in his leg. He practices brilliant medicine on the locals — he is superb at diagnosing and treating their maladies. (He is not a surgeon — the cutting is done by his handsome French cousin Sebastien with whom Piers works.) Piers avoids anything resembling affection from others and has absolutely no plans to ever marry and produce an heir. In fact, all who know him believe his childhood accident left him impotent.
Our heroine, the beauteous Linnet Berry Thrynne, needs a hasty marriage. All of London, including her father, believe that due to a few kisses with a prince and a dress that made her look enceinte, she’s probably pregnant and definitely disgraced. Linnet’s father — desperate for a groom — and Piers’ father — desperate for an heir — devise the perfect solution: Linnet will marry Piers, call the prince’s child his, and give the Marchant family a legal, blue-blooded heir. Linnet, despite knowing perfectly well the prince did no more than kiss her, agrees to this scheme because her father is insistent, no one in London will speak to her and, well, she rather likes the idea of marriage to an impotent man — she found the whole kissing thing with the prince quite distasteful. So, off the Wales she heads, the Beauty heading into the lair of the Beast.
Ms. James does a nice job with her fairy tale. Linnet is as intelligent as she is gorgeous and she’s more than capable of standing up to Piers and his almost intolerable rudeness. The two learn to like and love one another and their interactions are witty and passionate (although it takes Linnet longer than it should to realize Piers’ impotency is the stuff of legend). They are surrounded by fabulous secondary characters — I loved Piers’ divorced parents and the marvelously named butler Prufrock. Best of all is the setting — Piers’ castle is a bona fide hospital full of interesting patients and staff and genuinely engrossing medical dilemmas. The last quarter of the book is a moving medical tragedy — an epidemic of scarlet fever strikes the area and Piers and his staff struggle to save as many lives as they can. Piers is an appealing hero — smart, entertaining, very sexy and, underneath all his barbs, a genuinely good man.
I enjoyed this book, but it was still a bit of a disappointment. When Ms. James is on as a writer, she writes with grace and insight. To me, her fairy tale series (the first is A Kiss at Midnight) doesn’t have the depth found in the best of her other romances. I liked Linnet but I didn’t find her memorable. (I felt the same way about Kate in A Kiss at Midnight.) Piers’ reluctance to commit to Linnet irked me; I didn’t believe the damage from his childhood had the power to keep him from grasping the joy he finds with her. When he sends her away, despite her avowal of love, I wanted to smack him. Frankly I found Robert and Marguerite (Piers’ parents) the more affecting couple.
However, these are quibbles. When Beauty Tamed the Beast is an interesting and satisfying read. By the end of the novel, Piers and Linnet have survived tragedy with grace. Their story is moving and often wickedly funny. Piers, unlike his TV doppelganger, gets the happily ever after he deserves. I am sure — and remember it is a fairy tale — Piers and Linnet will have long and loving lives healing and helping the people of Wales and will never once be sued for malpractice. The cranky Dr. House might call this tale implausible nonsense but I call it well-done romantic fiction.