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REVIEW: When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James

Dear Ms. James,

I was under the impression that I had previously only read one book by you. A trip down memory lane, via my book log, proved me wrong. (BTW, my log is celebrating its 10th anniversary! Thanks for the memories, Microsoft Excel! I can barely remember what I read yesterday these days, so the log has been a lifesaver.) It turns out I’ve read two of your previous books: in 2003, I read Duchess in Love (grade: B; observation: silly fluff, but fairly entertaining) and in 2005 I read Much Ado About You (grade: C+; observation: readable but forgettable).

I think the second observation must have been accurate, because I remember nothing about Much Ado About You. I actually do remember a bit about Duchess in Love, which is surprising given how long ago I read it. But I think that book is why I haven’t felt too compelled to read your other books (2005 anomaly aside). You see, even though it was a decent book and I gave it a B, it cemented my impression of your books as Not for Me. Not for Me because I like dark and angsty, and you write light and funny – at least that was the impression I had. So I didn’t have high expectations when I opened your latest, When Beauty Tamed the Beast. Jane had sent it to me and I didn’t think I’d hate it, given my previous experience with your work. Plus, I try to remain relevant and useful by not always reviewing books that are more than a century old.

All this build-up is to say: I was surprised by how much I enjoyed When Beauty Tamed the Beast. It was well-written, compelling, and featured appealing characters. No, it wasn’t dark and angsty (though there are serious situations dealt with in the story). I liked it anyway.

So, plot stuff: Linnet Thynne is young, beautiful, and the toast of London. She’s being courted by a prince, a romantic sort who apparently pines after inappropriate women (and Linnet, while a lady, is inappropriate for him, being the mere daughter of a viscount). When the prince abruptly announces her unsuitability for marriage, and then abandons Linnet in the middle of a ball, it causes a scandal. By the next day, Linnet is persona non grata and rumors are flying that she is pregnant with the prince’s child (due to an unfortunately full-skirted ball gown).

Linnet’s father is on the verge of apoplexy; he’s never been exactly the most devoted of parents, and he seems to view this scandal as something between a nuisance and a personal affront to him. Along with Linnet’s aunt (her late mother’s sister), he concocts a scheme to marry Linnet off to the son of the Duke of Windebank, who is known to be desperate to find a spouse for his only child. The rumors of Linnet’s condition will in fact be welcomed by the duke, they think – his son is said to be impotent, and the duke is believed to be obsessed with his noble name being carried on (and presumably, if it can’t be carried on by someone with his own blood, a baby with royal blood isn’t too bad).

Linnet thinks the whole thing is ridiculous, but on the other hand, she is not crazy about hanging around London now that no one calls on her and she receives no invitations. So she shortly finds herself packed off to Wales in the company of the Duke of Windebank, ready to be a bride to a man she imagines is frail and easily manipulated. She knows from the duke that his son Piers, the Earl of Marchant, is a brilliant physician who has little patience with the medical establishment; she’s heard he can be tempermental. But she doesn’t doubt her own ability to use her beauty and charm to make him fall in love with her. Once that happens, Linnet figures she can come clean about the fact that she isn’t pregnant.

Of course, Piers is not what Linnet expects – to say he’s tempermental is at the very least, an understatement. He also hates his father and has no intention of going through with any wedding. His remote estate is mostly given over as a hospital, where he treats patients with a variety of ailments and teaches several young doctors-in-training; he is ably assisted by his charming French cousin, Sebastien, who is himself a gifted surgeon. Piers can be shockingly callous towards his patients; he gives them excellent care but doesn’t hesitate to be brutally honest about the course of their illnesses and chances of survival. Piers himself suffers from a bad leg, the result of a childhood accident, that causes him to walk with a limp and gives him a great deal of pain (he swims everyday to alleviate the pain and strengthen the leg). Some of Piers’ crankiness can no doubt be attributed to his chronic pain; the rest of it just appears to be his natural disposition.

If any of this sounds familiar to fans of a certain FOX medical drama, yes, the Earl of Marchant is modeled on the title character of “House.” I don’t watch the show myself, but know enough about it to discern the similarities. I did like Piers’ characterization – the gruff hero with a heart of gold is a cliche, but it’s an effective one when done well, and it’s done well here. And to be fair, “heart of gold” may be overstating it a bit – Piers becomes a better man and a better doctor partly due to Linnet’s influence, which was another aspect of the plot I liked.

I liked Linnet a lot too – she’s one of those heroines who is very aware of her beauty and her effect on men, and she doesn’t hesitate to use the weapons at her disposal to get what she wants. But she’s not the typical shallow, vain heroine who has to learn an Important Lesson about what really matters in life; Linnet already has a good head on her shoulders and well-developed conscience. She institutes some changes in the care of Piers’ patients, pushing for them to be given more stimulation and interaction with the outside world. Piers is surprised to find that Linnet actually has an interest in his medical practice and treatment theories.

Linnet and Piers bond over this, and Piers teaches Linnet to swim. (Under circumstances that really don’t bear too deep thinking about; the apparent abundance of sunshine along the Welsh coastline, though remarked upon as unusual, is actually one of the more believable aspects of these swimming encounters. More believable, at any rate, than the likelihood that a man and woman of Piers’ and Linnet’s social class during that era would be indulging in near-naked swimming lessons alone on a daily basis. And this is before you even get to the convenient sudden storm that forces them to take shelter in an abandoned gatehouse…)

Honestly, if I think about this book at all deeply, there are a lot of logic holes I could fall into. Linnet’s initial scandal doesn’t make a huge amount of sense – I think maybe she was behaving a bit inappropriately with the prince, and given her late mother’s racy reputation (she indulged in a number of affairs while married to Linnet’s father), and the business about the billowy dress…I guess that could add up to her being shunned. But it’s not really spelled out – Linnet, if anything, seemed to have been a society darling before the prince dumped her, and said dumping would seem to be more likely to engender sympathy rather than scorn. It would make more sense if it was clear that Linnet was courting trouble and acting “fast” before the scandal broke. It’s also sort of fuzzy as to why the rumor about Piers’ supposed impotence exists – again, I can fill in the blanks and imagine that Piers put it out there to torment his father (whose supposed obsession with lineage is mentioned several times and then dropped) with the idea that the line would end with him. I appreciate books that don’t spell everything out, but there’s a difference between not spelling everything out and having characters act in inexplicable ways to forward the plot, and I think I can usually recognize that difference.

On the other hand, I can’t really claim that these inconsistencies bothered me much, because they really didn’t. I just really enjoyed the book. It brought to mind my recent reading of SEP’s Call Me Irresistible. I think of myself as someone who requires a certain amount of verisimilitude in my romance. SEP is my contemporary exception, but I didn’t think I necessarily had any historical exceptions. I was wrong. Or, perhaps, it’s that while the situations in this book are not necessarily realistic,   the characterizations are. Good characterization matters much more to me that plot, so ultimately the silliness and plot holes don’t count for that much in my estimation.

My grade for When Beauty Tamed the Beast is A-.

Best regards,

Jennie

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has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

21 Comments

  1. TKF
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 12:52:58

    That seems like a lot of plot holes for an A- . . .

    ReplyReply

  2. meoskop
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 13:02:50

    I usually love Eloisa James, but I like this book less the farther I get from it. I liked dealing with the dynamics of divorced parents as well as Linnet’s inherited issues. (Linnet falling from grace so quickly worked for me because if Frances Cobain stumbled out of a nightclub people would assume she was emulating her mother, not that she’d been drugged.) For me it fell apart in the last quarter – the entire chicken coop sequence. It went so far over the top when taken in combination. I decided not to review it since it’s getting heavily reviewed and my opinion keeps changing.

    ReplyReply

  3. ka
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 13:15:13

    Thanks for the review … I haven’t read Eloisa James in a while and I always enjoy a story set in Wals.

    ReplyReply

  4. Natalie Arloa
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 06:56:21

    I thought the chicken coop-and-after-effects was one of the more powerful sections of the book. I confess to speeding through it a bit, just to get to the ending, but I appreciated how the Beauty had to come to terms with her own Beastliness, that she could believe in his love in a different way because she was not perfect and lovely and he still loved her, still wanted her.

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  5. Catherine
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 07:11:33

    I seem to recall that he heavily implied to his father in letters that he was impotent.

    ReplyReply

  6. Sandra
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 07:13:51

    I enjoyed this book, but I’m a James fan anyway. She has said that “Beauty” and her previous book, a Cinderella retelling, were fairy tales and not historical romances, so she felt less constrained by historical accuracy.

    And this story is definitely light, and written with tongue-in-cheek. “Kibbles” and “Bitts” are the names of two of the doctors-in-training.

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  7. mdegraffen
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 08:18:31

    I love James and always look forward to a new book by her. This one did not disappoint. @Jennie, you don’t watch House? Really?

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  8. TKF
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 11:39:38

    so she felt less constrained by historical accuracy

    This made me laugh. Given the famous kerfuffle over the numerous errors in her debut, I would think she'd shy away from trumpeting such a concept.

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  9. Michelle R.
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 14:18:14

    I pretty much adored this and was useless to do anything else until I finished it.

    ReplyReply

  10. becca
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 16:00:32

    yet another book where the review sounded so good I jumped over to Amazon to see about downloading it, only to find the eformat is as expensive as the paperback. Not going to do it. Oh, well. Another sale lost.

    ReplyReply

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    Feb 16, 2011 @ 19:18:55

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by avonbooks, HarperCollins. HarperCollins said: Review: WHEN BEAUTY TAMED THE BEAST by Eloisa James @dearauthor @EloisaJames : http://ow.ly/3XKuq [...]

  12. Jennie
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 00:42:33

    @TKF: I grade romances more on how they feel to me than on literary merit, though of course the latter informs the former to a degree. In the case of this book, it wasn’t to a very great degree. I just wasn’t bothered by some of the things that might bother me in another book. That’s usually a sign that a book has hooked me.

    ReplyReply

  13. Jennie
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 00:46:30

    @Natalie Arloa: Yes, that was powerful for me too. As I usually do about the beast in the fairy tale, I felt a little conflicted at the idea that Linnet probably was going to go back to looking pretty damn perfect eventually.

    The chicken coop business worked for me because I am a sucker for suffering-heroine melodrama. I still have such a weakness for that dynamic in romance – where the hero wrongs the heroine and finds that she’s suffered some terrible fate as a result. Shades of Judith McNaught!

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  14. Jennie
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 00:47:37

    @Sandra: Interesting to hear that from James. I think I noticed the Kibbles and Bitts business once in passing and forgot about it. Hee!

    ReplyReply

  15. Jennie
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 00:49:21

    @mdegraffen: Yeah, I’m not into the medical dramas (except for my long stormy relationship with ER). Also, Hugh Laurie will always be the ridiculous fop from the Blackadder series to me.

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  16. Barbara
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 05:32:19

    I have this in my TBR-eventually list – since everyone else reviews it ASAP, I figure most people won’t care if I don’t get to it right away ;) – I’m not a major historical detail stickler either if I actually enjoy the book a lot. I’ve been looking forward to it.

    (sshh, I don’t watch House either)

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  17. Gretchen Galway
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 10:56:22

    Ran out and bought this (at Borders) when it came out. She’s an auto-buy for me, in part because of the way her series books hook together with such long story arcs… the Duke of Villiers, for instance, yum.

    I read this book in one sitting, which has become rare for me lately. My kids were abandoned, my husband sullen and sad. There’s a lot of reality-bending here, but once I approached it as alternative-history-fairy-tale (like Princess Bride), it was cool.

    Love those beast stories, too.

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  18. uwalum82
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 17:15:17

    I read this a few days ago too Jennie. I loved it. I usually do have fairly good luck though with Eloisa James (I think she’s really come along well over the years as a nice writer of historical romances).

    It was the best romance I’ve read so far this year and I also gave it an A-. I found it charming, funny, and I just loved how smart the hero & heroine both were. Plot loopholes – sure – but they didn’t detract from a really nice reading experience for me.

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  19. Jennie
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 23:54:28

    @uwalum82: Yes, exactly – I really did appreciate their intelligence. They had really personalities, too, rather than just a collection of romance-cliche traits.

    ReplyReply

  20. April
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 17:19:57

    Great review. :)

    I definitely found the book entertaining and not one that needed to be taken too seriously in terms of historical accuracy, but I think the main characters just weren’t as engaging for me as they were for other readers.

    ReplyReply

  21. When Beauty Tamed The Beast by Eloisa James | Janicu's Book Blog
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 08:50:04

    [...]   Other reviews: Giraffe Days – positive The Good, The Bad, and the Unread – A- Dear Author – A- Babbling about Books, And More – A- GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); [...]

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