Genre: Adult Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Carina Press
Release Date: November 19 2012
It’s been a long time since I’ve actually sat down and read a novella, but for a busy book reviewer it was a nice change of pace. How Beauty Met the Beast is only 38,000 words, and I spent a pleasant evening breezing through it. A modern re-telling of the Beauty and the Beast story, it has many positive elements: engaging characters, a wonderfully unique setting, and a very surprising sex scene. Now that I have your attention (!)…
Jolie Benoit is a burlesque dancer at a club called Pussy Will-Oh! in Austin, Texas when she has an unexpected encounter with a hulk of a man who visits her dressing room after a show one night. The twist is that Jolie is changing behind a sheet that has been strung up to give her privacy, and their anonymous encounter takes place with the sheet between them. Hauk, the beast of the story, is an Army Ranger vet who is terribly scarred from a fire in Afghanistan. Although he is attracted to the beautiful dancer he watches at the club, he knows she is off-limits and way too refined to ever be attracted to him. They part ways, and Hauk never expects to see her again. But fate throws them together, of course, when a group of men called the Order of Ananke tries to kidnap and rape Jolie. Hauk rescues her and takes her to an underground community called the Underlight, a place that Hauk calls home and whose residents work in secret to overthrow groups like the Ananke, who are dumping chemicals into Austin’s water supply.
Jolie is shocked and scared when she sees Hauk’s face for the first time, but she doesn’t connect him with the man from her dressing room until later in the story. When he tells her that a twelve-year-old girl named Whitney has been kidnapped by the Ananke in order to blackmail her grandfather, Reginald Benoit, Jolie admits that Whitney is her niece, and Benoit is actually Jolie’s father. Hauk and Jolie, along with other friends from the Underlight, join forces to help rescue Whitney from the clutches of the Ananke.
The story takes off in a fast-paced race to track down Whitney. Along the way we get to know more about the elusive Hauk and his terrible past as well as a host of flavorful characters that interact with Hauk and Jolie, both above ground and below. The relationship between the two slowly evolves as Jolie begins to see past Hauk’s scars into the gem of a man that he is inside. What I really enjoyed about this book was the quirkiness of the characters, many of them misfits of one type or another that are simply trying to fit in and find love and acceptance.
I absolutely loved the Underlight, an almost technology-free underground city where residents each learn a craft to keep their world sustainable. It reminded me of the tunnel world under the subways of New York City in the original Beauty and the Beast TV show, and I wanted to know more about this fascinating world. What didn’t work as well for me was the Order of Ananke, the bad guys that are trying to presumably rule the world and corrupt society. Some supernatural elements are added into the story when the gang breaks into the Order’s stronghold to find Whitney, as the Order of Ananke uses magic and goddess worship to control their enemies, but I honesty felt the story would have been just fine without the magic, which almost seemed thrown in so that the book could be called “paranormal fiction.”
What really makes the story shine are the characters and the relationships between them. I love Hauk and his tragic back-story, and I think Jolie is a perfect foil for his dark and haunted past. Other characters, such as the likeable cross-dressing Catrina who runs the Pussy Will-Oh! and Hauk’s computer hacking sidekick Brayden, add interesting side stories and fodder for future books. I wasn’t as impressed with musician Paul, Jolie’s philandering boyfriend, or Jolie’s niece Whitney, a somewhat annoying character that didn’t do much other that act as a device to try to get Hauk and Jolie together, but I loved most of Garren’s characters and wanted to get to know them better.
I had such a fun time reading How Beauty Met the Beast, a story that shows how people from different sides of the tracks can find happiness together. I’m anxious to read more about the Underlight and the people who live there, and luckily the next two novellas in the trilogy both come out in 2013. I fervently hope that the author finishes what she started with Jolie and Hauk (*wink wink*) because I was definitely left wanting more in that department.