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Goats, gripes, and grasping for greatness
Books: Beauty and the Werewolf 
20th-Oct-2011 08:46 pm
Summer
Beauty and the Werewolf is the sixth and latest installment in the Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms presented by the talented Mercedes Lackey. Like last year’s Sleeping Beauty, Lackey is building fairy tales on the well known and well-traveled landscapes we all know, and then throwing a hard left-right that leaves all of the figures scrambled and everyone saying someone else’s lines.

Surprisingly, this year’s Beauty is not nearly the departure from traditional storytelling that last year’s was. In this story, our “beauty” is named, predictably, “Bella” and is the oldest of a blended family of three girls. As is proper and traditional, Bella is the self-created head of the household. Her useless but assuredly not wicked stepmother spends her time in the bliss of mild hypochondria, cared for by well-meaning and understanding old gents who do their best to keep her happy with her gossip and warm wraps. Bella’s sweet and empty-headed twin step-sisters are merely the first gatekeepers to the plot; they are used and promptly discarded literally 20 pages into the story.

Bella throws on her crimson winter wrap, and tromps off into the forest Red-Hood-style to visit the old wise woman in the woods. While on her way to Granny’s house, Bella runs into the very disagreeable woodsman Eric, who warns her away from the woods. Bella rebuffs and rebukes him quite strongly, has a lovely visit with Granny, and is promptly bitten by a werewolf – the reclusive Duke Sebastian – on her way home. And with that werewolf attack, Lackey snatches the plot off of the Red Riding Hood path and drops it firmly onto the Beauty and the Beast plot line, delivering Bella to Duke Sebastian’s castle to live out a three-month quarantine on her werewolf bite.

In this series, which began with The Fairy Godmother, Lackey takes the fairy tales we remember (Rapunzel, etc.), reminds us of the trope and expectations within each, and then promptly twists them around into new stories and new endings. The mindless magical force that drives many of the life stories within the Five Hundred Kingdoms is The Tradition. The Tradition gets its magic from the repetition of stories around the fireplaces – the faith of the common people – but is agnostic about any particular endings, good or bad. The Fairy Godmothers, Sorcerers, and other Tradition-educated magic users are constantly in a battle of wits and wills to manipulate The Tradition’s force into happy endings (which might not be the actual traditional ending). The readers learn about the forces involved as the characters – Bella and Sebastian – find themselves feeling oddly emotional in times and places when it does not make logical sense.

The strengths of this book, and the series, are the characters themselves. Bella is amazingly self-aware and logical about her situation, and horribly stubborn in going about her rebellion. While she rebels against being manipulated by the characters in the castle where she is moved to live out her possible werewolf quarantine, she also explores the reasons for the werewolf’s existence and the woodsman’s horrid attitude. She also pursues wide-ranging studies, and finally figures out what The Tradition can do for her when she decides what she wants for a solution.


-- New-to-me books read in 2011 (as opposed to re-reads) --

January
Little Dee vol 2
Little Dee vol 3
Unusual Suspects
Harvest Moon
The Black Stallion (yes, I know, I should have read it with Black Beauty)
Ravens in the Library: Magic in the Bard's Name, with a pre-finished commentary here
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
Fang Bangers: An Erotic Anthology of Fangs, Claws, Sex and Love
Must Love Hellhounds
Truthseeker

February
Dark and Stormy Knights
Tortall and Other Lands
River Marked (2/28 - it arrived a day early)

March
Questionable Content, vol 1
How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf
Lifeblood
Magic Bites
Skinwalker, A Jane Yellowrock Novel
Running with the Pack
Magic Burns
Blood Cross

April
"Skyblaze" Adventures in the Liaden Universe #17
Kings of the North
Goblin Tales
Do Not Sniff the Bees, Two Lumps book 6
Magic Strikes
Magic Bleeds
Mercy Blade
The Initiate Brother

May
Angelology
City of Pearl
An Artificial Night
Late Eclipses

June
After Hours: Tales from Ur-Bar
Magic Slays
Ghost Ship (e-ARC)
Warbreaker

July
Quarter Share
Half Share
Full Share
"Intelligent Design" (short story in the Liaden Universe, published online at Baen)
Heroes in Training
Serenity: Better Days
Serenity: Those Left Behind
Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale
Tiger's Curse
Calamities of Nature, vol 1
Troubled Waters
Wolfsbane and Mistletoe
In Fury Born

August
Naked City
Unnatural Issue
Home Improvement: Undead Edition
Summers at Castle Auburn
"Kin Ties" (short story in the Liaden Universe, found here)
Flying Blind
Archangel
Hunger Games
The Shape-Changer's Wife
A Matter of Magic

September
One Salt Sea
"Guaranteed Delivery" (short story of the Liaden Universe, found here)
Wayfinder
Double Share as an audiobook from PodioBooks.Com
Cast in Ruin

October
Captain's Share (as an audio book)
Land of Painted Caves
Owner's Share (as an audio book)
Beauty and the Werewolf

-- Books abandoned rather than completed in 2011 --

February
Sing the Four Quarters, by Tanya Huff

August
Fuzzy Nation, by John Scalzi

October
Gamestorming (gave it to a co-worker)

-- Books Still in Progress --
These are books that I haven't totally given up on, I've just... put them aside... for now. And gee, look at how many of them are non-fiction!
The Brand Within
If You Don't Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails
Swords and Dark Magic
Battlestations
Wise Man's Fear
Comments 
22nd-Oct-2011 04:05 am (UTC)
Hey, this reminds me that I just read Troubled Waters on your recommendation. I quite enjoyed it, actually, so thanks for the idea, although I did find the ending somewhat anti-climactic and was occasionally somewhat frustrated with Zoe's behavior. So not a perfect read, but a good one!
22nd-Oct-2011 11:54 am (UTC)
I'm glad you read and enjoyed it, and it sounds like you had much the same experience that I did with reflections of Zoe.
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