Beaumont & Beasley, Book 1
Some people will call this a "Beauty & the Beast" retelling, which it definitely isn't. (Indeed, that tale is specifically referenced as a story within the text.)
Instead, it's a wonderful fantasy adventure that uses elements and iconography from that classic fairytale (among others) to tell a fun and whimsical new adventure.
Like one of my favorite TV miniseries (The Tenth Kingdom) this first in a new series of books is set in the fairytale kingdoms many years after the famous events. Except in this case, thousands of years have passed, causing the tales to become legends many no longer believe in.
One such skeptic is Nick Beasley: a so-called "magical detective" who makes it his business to debunk instances of supposed supernatural occurrences.
And he barely gets paid for his efforts.
"The Beast of Talesend" describes what happens when Beasley gets caught up in events that prove to him the existence of magic without any room for doubt, and places him firmly in the role of sorting out some of these mystical dangers.
While the inciting "twist" comes later than might perhaps be optimal to set up the real story, and is easily guessable by most, I shan't spoil it here for fear of upsetting those who might not have anticipated it. Suffice to say that a certain occurrence forces Beasley to become part of this magical world despite his natural lack of desire.
What makes this book so entertaining is not simply the "updated fairytale" nature of it (which we've seen before - if not specifically in this form) but rather the pace, the wit, and the loveable characters.
The setting itself is vaguely described - being a sort of "timeless modern" in nature - in a part of the Afterlands transparently modeled after the United Kingdom (with Wales being habitually overlooked again) that clearly expects us to imagine something classic and yet contemporary at the same time.
This follows through to the tone, where Beasley's dry acerbic nature clashes with Cordelia's Jane Austeny plucky-yet-occasionally-proper adventurous spirit. The dialogue and the first-person narration are easy to read without feeling as though the text has been too modernized for our ears.
The plot is fairly basic, and the villain archetypal rather than layered, but this is all in the service of setting up a fairytale-based world and Beaumont and Beasley's place in it, while moving through a rollicking adventure quest.
Might I have preferred a more complex story worthy of telling in itself? Perhaps (though future installments may yet provide such a creature) but for a book intended to set up a world, a tone, and designed to emphasize the roles and functions of a specific set of characters, it does its job pretty much exactly right.
And yet because of this book's (deliberately) shallow nature and slight story, I find myself unable to give it the full five stars some might imagine it deserves. Being something of a stingy mark-giver, I reserve five stars (usually!) for the most exceptional writings, or those that affect me the most deeply.
"The Beast of Talesend" is not striving for such a target, so to not achieve it is a success rather than a failure, in a way. Four stars without reservation, then, for something so entertaining and breezy to read.
Looking forward to more from these characters!