Okay, so I'm fairly new at the whole 'reviewing ARCs for the Internet' thing. In the past, I was either blowing up Twitter (see Dragon Bound) or maintaining a covenant of secrecy between myself and the romance buyer. I didn't want to be labeled as the girl not to send books to because she told the buyer of a national chain that the last one sucked. Now, of course, it doesn't matter anymore so I'm free to blast my opinion everywhere.
I like this series and it got a good write-up in Romantic Times so when I saw it was available in NetGalley from Luna/Harlequin, I hit that request button wicked fast. Now, according to the NetGalley publisher guidelines, I'm supposed to wait until a month before the book comes out to review it. I don't particularly get the logic behind that because I'd think you'd want the buzz to start early and then carefully feed it until the book's release, but what do I know, I was just a bookseller for 9.5 years. To further make my life difficult, I'm not entirely sure when this book is/was coming out. I have it down as a June publication and NetGalley has it as June 28th, but Amazon and GoodReads says October 18th. So it's currently August 24th and God knows when you're going to be reading this. Hello from the past!
So, right, the book. First off, do not bother reading Beauty and the Werewolf if you have not at least read The Fairy Godmother. If Harlequin is smart, they will do a Fairy Godmother giveaway before Beauty comes out. Maybe they did, clairvoyance is not one of my skills. If you are already in possession of Beauty without having read any of the previous books and are being stubborn, here's basically what you need to know.
There are the Five Kingdoms, kinda like that 10th Kingdom made-for-TV movie, but much less self-aware. Hovering over these Kingdoms is Tradition. Tradition is like gravity or atmosphere, a natural force that the average Joe doesn't think about much, but that brilliant scientists study like mad. In the Kingdoms, a woman may be a wonderful person until she marries a man with a daughter and she slowly turns cruel. The youngest of the three brothers may find himself questing for a princess. Not doing a favor for the old woman in the road could have severe repercussions, you dig? Basically, Tradition tries to make fairy tales happen, even if the people at the center of these tales would much rather have ordinary lives, thank you very much. Fairy Godmothers are the ones who try to combat Tradition and manipulate it so wicked witches aren't roaming the countryside.
Now, Lackey is kinda smart here, because one would assume based on the title and main character's name that we are dealing with the Beauty and the Beast tale. In fact, Lackey starts off with Cinderella, turns to Little Red Riding Hood, and then begins to incorporate elements from Beauty and the Beast, but she mixes in other archetypes as well. The book is almost meta in the way it encourages you to pick apart the various story elements.
Despite by published by Harlequin's Luna imprint, this is not a romance and is more of a mystery set in a fantasy world with a few romantic elements thrown in. There are two main male characters, Eric the Gamekeeper and Sebastian the wizardly Werewolf. I have to admit, I wasn't entirely sure who Bella, the heroine, was going to end up with. I also had my suspicions as to who the dastardly evildoer was, but again, I wasn't certain until just before the grand reveal. Part of my uncertainty was due, again, to the way Lackey kept shifting the characters' archetypes. Eric, in particular, goes through a multitude of labels, Tradition at work.
The one quibble I had, and this is not a little one, was the fact that some of the plot elements seemed to be recycled from Lackey's older book, The Fire Rose. Wolfy wizard isolates young female in his very large residence where the only other human is a male who is assisting the wizard in some way and they are waited upon by seemingly invisible servants. During her stay at the residence, the female discovers the existence of magic (it's the exact same kind in both books) and Wolfy wizard takes her on as an apprentice. Over the course of the book, they fall in love and an evil is vanquished. Even the fate of the Wolfy wizard is kind of the same. However, I will say that the characters themselves are very different. Rosalind in Fire Rose is very prim and studious. Bella from Beauty is intelligent, but she has more street smarts and she's able to take care of herself. Fire Rose's hero, Jason, is an egotistical jackass whereas Beauty's Sebastian is more of a gentleman and a milder personality.
If I had to rec only one, I'd probably opt for The Fire Rose, simply because it stands alone quite nicely. However, fans of the Five Kingdom books will enjoy this newest installment. Quite frankly, if you're a Lackey fan, you should read Fairy Godmother anyway! This series would also appeal to fans of Kristine Grayson and possibly fans of N.K. Jemisin as well.