This was my first Mercedes Lackey book. I know, I know. How can someone give their graduate lecture on fairy tale re-tellings and NOT include some Mercedes Lackey? In my defense, there are just way too many fairy tale re-tellings out there. I couldn’t hit them all.
This particular one is a clever mishmash of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, primarily. There are some other tales referenced as well, but those are the main ones. The protagonist has a strong will, and enjoys her independence–something you would expect from the Beauty trope. She’s interesting, and there are enough subversions of normal fairy tale stories that you’re kept guessing, and intrigued.
There were times where I had strong suspicions about the final outcome, only to find myself doubting those again in the next chapter. Lackey keeps you on your toes, definitely, trying not to give you the same predictable tale you’ve heard a thousand times.
The first half of the book was more enjoyable for me than the second in some ways. Around halfway things start getting sort of…well, meta. The characters aren’t so much aware of being in a book as they are aware of an outside force dictating their destinies to make them align with traditional fairy tale paths/endings. It felt a lot like Lackey was using her characters to describe the difficulty of writing this kind of story–being so tempted to take it in one easy direction, but managing to rebel and take it in another.
Still, that awareness on the parts of the characters meant that they tried even harder to choose their own destinies, working for what they actually wanted rather than accepting the first easy path that came along. That felt genuine and gave them complexity and good motivations, so I ultimately enjoyed it.
One thing that was done exceedingly well was the werewolf parts. I don’t think I’ve encountered any other Beauty and the Beast retelling where the beast is a werewolf, though it makes so much sense I have to imagine someone else out there has done it. It was a delightful play on the story, and the transformative nature of werewolves meant that the character got to be human and interact normally with the protagonist most of the time, which helped make their relationship relatable and interesting.
This is the first of the 500 Kingdoms books I’ve read (and the first Mercedes Lackey I’ve read), but I’ll definitely be seeking out more now. She’s a very good writer, with clever ideas and solid execution.