I LOVE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: the original telling by Jeanne-Marie le Prince du Beaumont, the adaptations by the Brothers Grimm, Cupid and Psyche, Disney, even Jane Eyre. It is the ultimate story of what Huey Lewis would call the transformational "Power of Love." And my favorite heroines are bookworms. Disney's Belle is seduced not by the opulence of the Beast's castle or his all-singing, all-dancing dinnerware, but by his incredible library. And so it is in Mercedes Lackey's retelling, The Fire Rose. Rosalind "Rose" Hawkins is a bookworm of the most academic sort, with a knowledge of ancient languages and a pair of corrective lenses attesting to her studiousness. In a story that teaches us to see beyond appearances, who better than a bookish woman to not judge a Beast by his exterior? Indeed, Rose comes to know her Beast through letters and conversation before ever laying eyes on him. And so the romance in The Fire Rose is off to a promising start.
It begins with an intriguing premise, relocating the classic love story to 1905 San Francisco and the wild coast of Northern California. Rose is suicidal after her father's death leaves her destitute and unable to continue her language studies at the University of Chicago. Fortunately, the Fates, and a few magickal creatures, are watching out for her and she is offered a position as tutor to the children of Jason Cameron, a rail baron with a coastal estate south of San Francisco. Rose arrives by private rail at the remote Cameron mansion with its lush rooms and unseen, attentive servants, only to learn that Cameron has no children. Disfigured in an accident, he has actually hired Rose to be his personal research assistant, reading to him from rare alchemical texts. By degrees, Rose discovers the truth about her employer (and his mysterious accident) and the existence of true magick. Jason is a fire master — one of the four elemental sorceries — cursed by his own hubris into the form of a man-wolf after botching a shape-shifting spell. Rose must help him discover a way back to being fully human.
As far as Beasts go, Jason Cameron is quite promising. A prideful magician previously used to a life of parties, pretty heiresses and the admiration of the upper crust, he has fallen far from grace. He is vain, overly confident, and yet all too aware that his condition comes with a ticking clock: the longer he remains in this Anubis-like form, the more violently animalistic he becomes.
The Fire Rose is frontloaded with plenty of wondrous traits. Cameron's closest friends are the magical salamanders that serve him, a precocious Arabian stallion, and a wise old Chinese herbalist who happens to be an earth master or, as the eastern tradition dictates, a master of dragons. When Lackey chooses to illustrate rather than dictate the story, these characters and the settings come to life. Turn-of-the-century Chicago and San Francisco, and luxury travel along the lines of the Orient Express in a private rail car that would make James West envious set a pretty stage for an historical fairy tale romance. Rose's lush suite at the mansion, magically tended gardens, a labyrinthine Chinatown, the California coastline — there is magic in the details of these places, enough to carry across each page. Sadly, it does not.
Much of the novel is told, rather than shown, through the internal monologues of the characters. We spend so much time in their heads, listening to them discover and then deny obvious facts, that ...read more