by Grace Draven
Afflicted by a centuries-old curse, a warlord slowly surrenders his humanity and descends toward madness. Ballard of Ketach Tor holds no hope of escaping his fate until his son returns home one day, accompanied by a woman of incomparable beauty. His family believes her arrival may herald Ballard’s salvation.
…until they confront her elder sister.
Determined to rescue her sibling from ruin, Louvaen Duenda pursues her to a decrepit castle and discovers a household imprisoned in time. Dark magic, threatening sorcerers, and a malevolent climbing rose with a thirst for blood won’t deter her, but a proud man disfigured by an undying hatred might. Louvaen must decide if loving him will ultimately save him or destroy him.
As much as I love Beauty and the Beast, it’s not a fairy tale I tend to read many outright retellings of because I love Disney’s 1991 adaptation so much; it’s my favourite film, and the story I always think of when I think of Beauty and the Beast.
I recently saw Jean @ Bookish Thoughts talk about this book, though, and was intrigued by it because the heroine is a widow and her love interest is the father of the man her beautiful younger sister has her eye on. I love fantasy that has older characters at its centre and I was in the mood for a Romance read, so I decided to pick this one up and I had a lot of fun!
Firstly, I loved that while this book is very much a retelling of Beauty and the Beast and has tips of the hat to some of its other popular adaptations, it’s also a very original retelling. There are two love stories here, not one, as well as a love between two sisters and a love between a father and his son that I really enjoyed reading.
The curse itself was also refreshing in that it was cast by our hero’s first wife who, though a rather nasty piece of work, was also someone I had a lot of empathy for as our hero looked back on their time together and acknowledged the part he had to play in the curse coming about.
Louvaen Duenda is a strong-willed, fiercely independent woman who has been a widow for three years, and has opened her home to her father and younger sister after her father’s business ventures failed and he lost almost everything. The horrid man he has been partnering with for these ventures has his mind set on marrying Louvaen’s beautiful younger sister, Cillia, but neither Louvaen, Cillia nor their father has any intention of letting such a marriage take place.
When Cillia follows Gavin, the handsome lord who has been courting her, back to his estate, Ketach Tor, in the hopes of securing a marriage of her own, Louvaen follows her to the cursed house to make sure nothing untoward happens that would threaten Cillia’s chances of a good marriage, and it’s there she meets Gavin’s father, Ballard.
It needs to be said that I adored Louvaen. She’s sharp-tongued and quick-witted and she doesn’t suffer fools, but she’s also not some sexless matron who’s constantly telling her younger sister what to do. She does need to learn that Cillia isn’t a little girl anymore, but her concerns are sound considering Cillia took off in the middle of the night with a man who, though pleasant, they don’t actually know that well. In fact Louvaen has been keeping her family afloat; she was offered a reprieve when she left her father’s home to marry Thomas, but with Thomas now dead both her father and Cillia have gone back to relying on her again, and looking after them gives Louvaen something to concentrate on that isn’t her grief.
Louvaen and Ballard’s relationship was so much fun to watch unfold. They’re both very strong characters with very strong opinions, but they both have a wonderful sense of humour and they play off each other so well. Now a widow, not a maiden, Louvaen can afford to be a little more carefree in her relationships with men than her younger sister, so when she and Ballard start a fairly casual affair seeking companionship it was really entertaining to watch them banter, all the while knowing the pair of idiots were clearly made for each other.
There was also no jealousy in this book, and I loved that. Considering stepmothers are so often villains in fairy tales, it was such a refreshing change to hear Louvaen speaking so highly of her stepmother, Cillia’s mother, who raised her as much as she did Cillia before her death. And when the sisters discover their father has started a relationship with someone else, they’re happy for him.
Louvaen has loved and lost before, and it’s not something she wants to do again, but she also doesn’t have to fall out of love with Thomas to fall in love with Ballard. He even asks her about her husband and she’s happy to tell him what she loved about him, and though Ballard acknowledges that his relationship with Louvaen couldn’t be if Thomas were still alive, he also comments on how pleasant he must have been and how lucky he and Louvaen were to have each other. There’s a lot of ‘one true love and no one else’ in books, especially in fantasy books, so to see a book acknowledge that it’s perfectly normal and okay for people to have multiple relationships, and that it’s perfectly okay to find love again after you lose it, was really satisfying.
The characters make this book. If you’re more into plot-focused fantasy then this book probably isn’t for you, it focuses more on the romance than it does the fantasy, but it was just so much fun to read and it was just what I was looking for when I picked it up. If you’re a fan of Romance, particularly Historical Romance, then I’d definitely recommend giving this book a try. I’ll definitely be reading more of Grace Draven’s work in future!