This is definitely not my favorite Mercedes Lackey book, but it’s acceptable. FYI, I’m usually pretty biased towards fairy tale retellings in that I almost always like them, haha. The good thing about fairy tales is that there’s always a happily-ever-after, and this one is no different. This Beauty and the Beast retelling has both good points (smart, confident protagonist) and bad points (protagonist forced into a damsel-in-distress role), and it’s a quick and action-packed read.
It is 1904, and Rosalind Hawkins, a medieval scholar studying in hopes of achieving a Ph.D. in the classics and medieval literature at the University of Chicago, had her dreams crushed when her father’s fortune vanished due to poor investments. Miraculously, Rose receives an offer from the reclusive Jason Cameron, a rail baron in San Francisco, to assist him in his research by reading and translating medieval German and Gaelic texts. Cameron, however, emphasizes that Rose would be reading to him through a speaking-tube, as he claims that he is too disfigured to look at. But clever Rose knows that there’s more that Cameron isn’t telling her, from the unseen servants to books about Magick… and, of course, a budding romance.
I liked Rose as a character – she’s smart, practical, and brave, and fends for herself pretty well in bad situations… definitely fitting the 20th-century-independent-woman role. And she has tons of spunk; for example, when she was alone on the train to San Francisco and someone rudely took her copy of The Odyssey just to get her attention, she wasn’t about to take any nonsense from him, and got him kicked off the train.
However, Rose still becomes the damsel in distress, which I guess is kind of inevitable in this fairy tale? It moves the plot along, so I won’t belabor that point, haha. And she was only in that role for a little while, since she’s still a 20th-century-independent-woman more often than not. Also, Lackey introduces a whole slew of supporting characters who play vital roles in the story, and skillfully weaves plots within plots such that The Fire Rose felt like a never-ending adventure full of twists and turns. The perspectives change occasionally so that we hear the story from the villain’s point of view, and that was also quite dreadful-in-a-good-way. And I have a love-hate relationship with Lackey’s writing style in this book – I adored her descriptions of the beautiful dresses and magnificent rooms in Cameron’s mansion, but thought that that amount of detail for the characters’ expressions was unnecessary. For example, a character’s “elongated face was full of concern as well as shock, and he appeared to be groping for words,” or when Rose “flushed very prettily”, and countless other moments in which I wanted to facepalm. 🙅
I don’t have much to say about Cameron, since he was the typical infatuated loverboy who was planning on sending Rose to Europe and buying her pretty dresses and basically
stalked her watched her from afar for the majority of the book.
The magic – which, hopefully, I don’t spoil for you now that you know there’s magic! – is awesome, and I’m always in awe of Lackey for the intricacies and details she develops in this system of magic. It’s what got me into this series, and dare I say I like the magical creatures in this book more than I like Lumière and Cogsworth? (Just barely, I swear!)
And uh, the romance. Of course, as a Beauty and the Beast retelling, there’s romance. I would argue, though, that that’s not a focus of this story, and that the romance is rather weak…
“I am not apt with words of romance-” he began.
“Nor I,” she answered awkwardly.
So if you want more romance, go watch the Disney movie. 😉
Overall, The Fire Rose is an action-packed, amped up version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, with less romance and more magic. I liked it, but I didn’t love it, because sometimes the writing style and the storyline irritated me. I would say that there are better Mercedes Lackey works out there, so you might as well skip this one and try out her later Elemental Masters books. (Unless you’re REALLY REALLY in love with Beauty and the Beast, then by all means, read this!)