The Bride and the Beast is a frothy confection of a romance, tightly adhering to the traditional fairy tale. Readers who love Scottish settings will be especially delighted with this version, set in a ruined castle in the misty Highlands, complete with brave lass and mysterious laird.
Gwendolyn Wilder has always been the plumpest hen in the family roost. Her sylph-like (and round-heeled) sisters make fun of her figure, as do most of the local lads in Ballybliss. But the entire village values Gwen’s brain, for she can read and write better than anyone, including the vicar. All this means naught, however, when the mysterious Dragon of Weyrcraig demands a price the villagers cannot pay.
Weyrcraig looms over the village, a dark, hulking ruin. Once it had been the home of the MacCullough, laird of the clan. All that ended fifteen years earlier, when the Duke of Cumberland laid siege to the castle and slaughtered the family for their part in the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Gwen’s childhood idol, young Bernard MacCullough, was last seen hanging limply from the saddle of an English soldier. And the villagers, fearing for their own safety, did nothing to help.
Now a beast has returned to Castle Weyrcraig, and the eerie sound of bagpipes drifts down to the village from its heights. A beast roams the mists and his roars are spellbinding. The guilt-ridden, superstitious villagers are terrified enough to meet all his demands, except the latest one -- a thousand pounds in gold, money that is rumored to be buried somewhere in the village. Money that was paid to one of them for betraying the MacCullough fifteen years earlier.
Since the villagers can't produce the money, perhaps they can appease the Dragon with a virgin sacrifice. Unfortunately, there is a lack of virgins in Ballybliss. Until someone remembers Gwen…intelligent, feisty Gwen, whose life has been spent caring for her infirm father. Gwen, who doesn't believe in dragons, but is about to meet one.
Little in this book will surprise readers, plot-wise, but no reader should expect that going in. Instead, the fun of the story rests in the characters. Gwen is particularly delightful, and much of the story is told from her point of view, so we get to know her well. One can't help but empathize with her right from the start, as she struggles to find a place among the shallow villagers who prefer beauty to smarts. Her discovery that some men prefer a more voluptuous kind of beauty is as fun for the reader as it is for Gwen.
The identity of Gwen’s Dragon is no secret to readers, though I won’t spell it out here. He’s a man whose only thoughts are those of revenge, until a beautiful blonde virgin is tied to a stake in front of his door and he must reluctantly rescue her, only to find that he can't let her go. As Gwen shakes him out of his self-absorption, he has a decision to make. Give up revenge? Or give up Gwen?
The secondary characters make their mark, particularly Tupper, the Dragon’s friend and henchman. A loveable, somewhat bumbling nobleman, he’s absolutely loyal to the man who rescued him from disgrace in a London gaming hell only to find himself dragged off to the Highlands. Tupper’s romance with Gwen’s younger sister, Kitty, is high comedy, as all the village girls fancy themselves at least a little in love with the mysterious Dragon.
Above all, The Bride and the Beast is a touching romance between two misfit people who find they are exactly what the other needs. And if comparisons to the Disney movie play through the reader’s head, well, one could do worse. If you’re in the mood for a feel-good fairytale with characters you'll come to treasure, The Bride and the Beast is right up your alley.