Although, as a reader, I would like to encourage authors to write larger numbers of original stories, this is a nice example of how a tried and true premise can be given an entertaining treatment that makes it worth revisiting. (It also happens to be one of my personal favorites.)
Richard Blackthorne has been a recluse since an accident left ugly scars on his face and body. Unable to cope with the disfigurement of her handsome husband, his wife left, neglecting to tell him that she was pregnant with their child. Richard learns of the childís existence when the wife dies, and arranges for four-year-old Kelly to come live with him.
Since he is sure his deformities will frighten the child, he hires a nanny from a company called Wife, Incorporated. (I gather that there is a series of books about Wife, Inc. but it doesnít seem to figure significantly in this plot.) The nanny, Laura Cambridge, put herself through college with money won in beauty pageants and has now found her true vocation as a teacher. Laura arrives early, to settle in before Kelly is brought home, and is infuriated to discover that Richard does not intend to show himself to her, or to his grieving daughter, and that, in fact, no one has seen him since he came to live there.
Beauty and the Beast is a story of enduring charm, and this is an appealing and quite romantic retelling in a modern setting. Of the two protagonists, Richard is a little more trapped by the archetype - unfortunately Beasts tend to get stalled inside ďI am ugly therefore unlovableĒ which tends not to add a lot of color to the character. Laura, however, although also a victim of her looks in some ways, is refreshingly natural and open, and does not obsess either about her appearance or its impact on her life. Her concern is for Kelly and Richard.
Like all good Beauty and the Beast tales, this one is propelled by the insistent attraction of Richard and Laura, and nicely enhanced by his growing love for his daughter and a yearning to be a father to her. Hard as he tries, Richard canít stay away from either of them. There are also, in case you were wondering, a wise handyman, suspicious villagers and a spooky castle.
Which brings us to my one complaint about this book. This castle is more dramatically lit than an Orson Wells remake of The Haunting. Okay, Richard only comes out at night, but the place is apparently so gloomy that he can be in the same room with Laura and she canít see what he looks like. The shadows are so sharp edged that he can be looking right at her and she can only see the unscarred half of his face. Itís understandable that the author wants to get her characters together but, Iím sorry, if thereís enough light for her to be able to find his chest and get close enough to poke him in it, thereís enough light to get a gander at him. The constant, convenient, magical obscuring of Richardís face started to pull me out of the story, although itís a tribute to the writing that I wanted to see him.
The times when their developing relationship does pull me in without a quibble is when they communicate out of visual contact - over the intercom; the frustrating, particularly for the heroine, conversations from behind a door; the times he enters a room behind her. It would have added immensely to my enjoyment if the author had obeyed her own plot convention more strictly and forced herself to move the story and the relationship forward without trying to cheat around it.
On the whole however, I love a romantic fairy tale, and could never resist the one about the wounded Beast reclaimed by the love of a good woman. And it doesnít hurt that heís great in bed.
I have one more note, directed not to the author but to the editor, just in case anyone is listening. The reference to Jane Eyre in the cover copy is gratuitous, pretentious, misleading, and not a service to Ms. Fetzerís book. Why would you do that?