This week, we turn back to fantasy from one of the greats, Mercedes Lackey. I selected Beauty and the Werewolf because it is recent and because the story is based on my favorite fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast and also because I love werewolves. So with no further ado, here’s the reading of the first two chapters.
Beauty, or Isabella Beauchamps (Bella), sneaks her younger twin stepsisters into the Wool Guild’s masked ball for a bit of innocent fun. While there, Duke Sebastian’s gamekeeper nearly accosts her, but she stomps on his toes, elbows him, and leaps back into the throng of dancers before he can do more than murmur a creepy threat. Shortly thereafter, she escorts her twin stepsisters home.
Reader Comments: Obviously, Bella is beauty, but is Duke Sebastian’s gamekeeper the beast? Lackey uses dog imagery to describe him, and in my favorite rendition of Beauty and the Beast, Disney’s, Beast is quite a jerk at first, so that would fit here…
Writer Comments: Lackey does some marvelous things in this first scene. She uses references to fashion, manners, dance names, and so forth to really solidly place us in the world. She doesn’t weigh the scene down with description. She tosses them in as little snippets that Bella uses to describe the scene’s action or place of her activity. However, Lackey chooses a curious place to begin Beauty and the Werewolf. Bella has two nice stepsisters, has lots of fun, succeeds in breaking the rules and all other things she attempts, and faces no greater threat than the gamekeeper, who she easily handles. Much as I was impressed with the world building, I was a little confused about where the story was going from this scene.
To cover their sneaking out to the dance, Bella has prepared three baskets of goods from her father, the merchant’s, warehouse. She gives her stepsisters each one and they prance in, exclaiming over the wonderful finds they’ve brought home. Bella is summoned to her stepmother, Genevieve’s, room. Genevieve is a woman whose hobby it is to feign sick and spy on the neighbors, and Bella has become adept at manipulating her. She presents her basket to Genevieve filled with fabrics and furs and goodies for her. And thus, she successfully distracts her stepmother and stepsisters for the next few weeks, she hopes.
Reader Comments: I’ve never see so spirited, clever, and mischievous of a Beauty. I’m not quite sure what to make of her. She’s happier than I expected. I still haven’t figured out the problem in her life, which bewilders me.
Writer Comments: This chapter is a great illustration of using a character’s actions to convey their personality. Bella lives in the moment, knows how to have fun, is clever, and isn’t afraid to lie to accomplish her goals.
The next morning, Bella rises early and tends to the real work of the household while her stepmother sleeps in so that, when Genevieve wakes, she can think she runs things. After, Bella goes to visit Granny in the woods. At the city gate, she’s reminded not to stay in the woods after dark. As she’s making her way through the snowy woods to the ancient and mysterious Granny, the gamekeeper stops her. Assuming she’s a poor maid, he threatens her, demands to see the contents of her basket, and once more, attempts to accost her. Bella reacts with rage and dresses him down and reveals her rank as the daughter of Beauchamps. The gamekeeper leaves, and Bella continues on to Granny’s.
Reader Comments: This chapter hints at a touch of unhappiness in Bella, which I was glad to see. She runs her father’s house but must allow her stepmother to take all the credit for everything. She’s also given up on the idea of marrying. She can’t see herself married and has never met anyone who she felt would treat her like a partner rather than belittling or treating her like an object. She seems fiercely content with her life, but there’s a touch of discontent.
Writer Comments: So far, Lackey takes the expected aspects of fairy tales and turns them on their head. The stepsisters are nice, the stepmother is not domineering, the heroine slaves away for the house out of choice rather than by force, and Bella wears a red cloak for a very practical reason, to keep from getting mistaken for a deer and shot. Turning expectations on their head always makes for more interesting story.
Bella proceeds to Granny’s house and shares her experience on the path with the gamekeeper over tea. She fears what the gamekeeper does to other girls who don’t have powerful fathers to protect them. Granny and she determine that the best way to handle the gamekeeper is to forgo normal channels, like going to Duke Sebastian directly or petitioning the king, and spread the story of the gamekeeper’s attempted assaults through her twin stepsisters. But while Bella studies healing and herbs with Granny, she can’t escape thoughts of the gamekeeper and Duke Sebastian. Why hasn’t Sebastian stopped him? Granny shares what she knows of Sebastian’s history and how, in the past several years, he hasn’t even left his estate, which Granny can only explain by blaming a curse.
Reader Comments: Oooh, here’s there it gets interesting. A curse. I presume this is the werewolf curse, but the question remains, is the gamekeeper a werewolf or is it Sebastian or both? Is the gamekeeper the functional ruler of Sebastian and his territory?
Writer Comments: To understand the political and social dynamics of the setting, Lackey educates the reader through the dialogue of the characters. This avoids the sense of being lectured. Since Granny genuinely has Bella go through the possibilities of how to handle a bully like the gamekeeper for a purpose that furthers the story, none of it feels awkward or forced.