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~*~While BEAUTY AND THE WEREWOLF is the sixth novel in Mercedes Lackey's TALES OF THE FIVE HUNDRED KINGDOMS series, it should be noted that each book is a stand-alone novel. While, at times, previous characters are referenced (Usually Godmother Elena from the first book, THE FAIRY GODMOTHER), each book can be read on its own. This is especially true with Lackey's latest offering, because there's a lot of information revealed about a magical force in the land known as The Tradition that will introduce new readers to the magic forcing everyone onto the paths of various fairy tales.
Judging by the cover, I initially thought BEAUTY AND THE WEREWOLF was going to be a Little Red Riding Hood tale, and indeed, it does start off on this path. However, after leaving Granny's to return home, Isabella is bitten by a werewolf and dragged off to be assessed for three months to see if she, too, will become a werewolf. The book then takes a Beauty and the Beast turn (which I guess I should have expected based on the book's title, but that crimson cape distracted me!). As with other books in the series, however, the path Isabella follows is anything but traditional, with both expected and unexpected twists. Isabella winds up living with Duke Sebastian, who has been cursed to become a werewolf beneath the full moon each month despite never having been bitten. He also lives with his illegitimate brother, Eric, the Gamekeeper, an established huntsman who fits several different Traditional profiles himself. Isabella is wary of Eric and thinks him to be a cad, but learns to hunt and horseback ride with him in order to pass the time. She also spends time with Sebastian, who is an established wizard. He teaches her magic, and Isabella begins the path of a sorceress despite the fact that she was originally supposed to come into her magic as an old woman and lead the life of a Granny. She learns about The Tradition, and in this way, she reminds me a lot of Elena from the first book as she tries to sabotage the direction The Tradition wants to lead her.
One of the highlights of the book was the way Lackey created invisible servants that Sebastian and Eric always thought to be stupid. Isabella takes the time to talk to them and learn their secrets as she begins organizing the Duke's household and getting it into tip-top shape. Isabella is a very practical character, but also very strong-headed and sure of herself and what she wants. She's blind to her own faults, and can be a bit overly self-absorbed at times. Sebastian, on the other hand, needs someone to herd him and pick up the pieces he left behind of his former life. He worries a lot and can be too sweet, the complete opposite of an alpha male. Eric fits that position more despite not having the werewolf gene, and is something of a rake, though Isabella is determined not to go down one of The Tradition's paths that would have her falling for him in an improper way. The course of the story is one of the more predictable ones in this series. I figured out the "curse" long before Isabella, Godmother Elena, or Granny did. The novel did feel a little more long-winded than other novels in the series. It took close to a hundred pages to really fall into the story this time around. I was distracted by the dialogue, by Isabella's explanations, and still annoyed over the fact that there were going to be werewolves in my fairy tale.
While BEAUTY AND THE WEREWOLF wasn't my personal favorite book in the series, I know others have said they believe this to be one of her stronger books in terms of how the writing has developed from earlier books. It could be that I'm too distracted by other things to properly appreciate the way she's created new intricacies. Either way, I'm already wondering what Traditional Paths Lackey will take us down next!