Book Review

Beauty and the Beast by Hannah Howell

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Title: Beauty and the Beast
Author: Hannah Howell
Publication Info: Zebra September 1992
ISBN: 978-0843933246
Genre: Historical: European

Book Beauty and the Beast I’ve read some books with dysfunctional couples.  I’ve read abusive heroes, heroines with severe maturity issues, heroes with severe maturity issues, amazingly stupid people, and some of the worst fucking people in the world. I have, as you all know, Seen Some Shit.

This is a pair that could work, but these two are seriously in the most dire need of couple’s counseling with an emphasis on communcation skills that I’ve ever seen.  They can’t use words; they can barely articulate their ~feelings~ and it’s the most fucking frustrating thing ever.

This was on a sale post a few weeks ago, and it cost $0.63 (thank god), and it’s inspired by Beauty and the Beast, which is my favorite fairy tale, and my favorite Disney movie ever.  I’m a sucker for these stories.

This is set in 1365 England.  Post Black Death, so there’s a lot of flux in society at this point, and other than saying “there’s a lot of changes in society” and “people get really really skittish when someone gets sick” this isn’t really explored much.  That’s disappointing, but okay.

Our heroine is Gytha, the daughter of a nobleman who has been contracted to marry the heir of a neighboring estate.  She’s a little put out by this, especially when they arrive for the wedding to discover the heir they THOUGHT she was marrying had just recently died in a riding accident, and the next in line was reported dead while fighting in France or whereever, so she prepares herself to marry Heir Number 3, whom she is a little bit less amused by.

But, of course, the rumors of the death of Heir Number Two, AKA Thayer, are super exaggerated, and he shows up, very very conveniently just before Gytha marries Heir Number Three, and instead, Thayer marries Gytha.  Thayer is not a handsome man- he spends the entire book worrying about whether or not he’s hot enough.  He also has battle scars, and no one actually tells him that chicks dig scars.

Thayer gets about twenty whole minutes to accept all of this, and promptly goes “Well, she’s hot, and I’m, you know, a dog, so I’m going to spend our entire marriage ejecting men from her bed and it’s going to suck.”  To be fair, his previous major relationship was with a very beautiful lady of the court who gave him a son, and then started screwing around on him.  She engineered events so that he walked in on her screwing someone else and he was Deeply Wounded by all of this.  (She then naturally abandoned the son to Thayer, so she’s basically the most typical villianess you ever did read.)

So Gytha and Thayer get married, and the sex ah-maze-ing, of course, but he’s (still) all concerned that she’ll discover she likes sex and go bang everyone else in the world. 

AND THEN the king calls them to court, because Thayer has to give the king 40 days of service each year, and the king wants to see this wife Thayer got, and Thayer’s all “OMG SHE’S GONNA BE FUCKING EVERY MAN IN COURT” and Gytha is like “OMG HE’S GONNA BE AROUND ALL THESE HOT WORLDY WOMEN HE’S BANGED BEFORE HE’LL WANT TO BANG THEM.”

They basically do this for the entire book.

Anyway, Thayer’s former paramour, Lady Elizabeth, wants to take up with Thayer again, and literally arranges for a guy at court to rape Gytha and for Thayer to walk in on it.  Gytha has older brothers who taught her the fine art of ball kicking, and Thayer happens on them pre-ball kick, and recognizes that she isn’t willing, but instead of, I don’t know, hauling this rapist off his wife, he freezes and very clearly has a “I am witnessing my wife screwing another man” look on his face.  Then he berates her for being alone with this guy. 

Gytha has no desire to tolerate this turn of events and heads home immediately, leaving Thayer to look at his life and look at his choices.

Let me repeat that.  He finds a man trying to rape his wife, and doesn’t do anything about it.  (Well, after she left he kills the guy in a duel.  Long after.)

Gytha goes home and then realizes she’s pregnant, but she’s still super mad (legit).  Thayer comes home a few months later, once his service to the king is done, and begs forgiveness, and Gytha, who can passive-agress with the best of them, basically goads him into a towering rage for… no real purpose except to show how angry she is?  I’m not sure.  Like I said, these two have no communication skills.  He forgives her (for….what?  IDK) she forgives him, and realizes she loves him, but can’t tell him because he doesn’t actually love her (she thinks) only he does love her, but he can’t tell her because she’s too hot for him and out of his league so she’ll just laugh or whatever and I roll my eyes a lot and then more complications show up.

Turns out, the uncle of Heir Number Three has been a very busy man, killing off Heir Number One, and trying to kill Thayer for years for the purpose of putting Heir Number Three in place as the… Earl?  Baron?  Whatever, so Evil Uncle can control his nephew and be defacto Whatever.  And Evil Uncle has teamed up with Thayer’s ex to kidnap Gytha by playing on her stupidity, draw Thayer into a trap, kiss him, and marry Gytha to Heir Number Three, because the marriage contracts specifies that she is to go to the heir.

So Gytha is waylaid by the Ex’s maid, who says the Ex wants to apologize, and I shit you not, Gytha goes, “Well, she’s not sorry, OBVIOUSLY, but she probably wants to make an appearance of amends so Thayer won’t be mad at her, so I should go talk to her, and maybe I can repair her relationship with the son she abandoned, too!”

This ends as well as you think:

It had all been a trap, and she had walked into it like a blind fool.


No kidding. 

So Evil Uncle has Gytha imprisoned, and Thayer finds out and gets all upset and Evil Uncle is all rapey but Heir Number Three turns on his uncle and sneaks Thayer in to save Gytha from being raped (again) and you’d think it stops there, right?

WRONG.

No, because no one who is supposed to be dead is actually dead, and HEIR NUMBER ONE fucking shows up, putting Thayer into YET ANOTHER GODDAMN ROUND OF SELF-FLAGELLATION.  Because even though Gytha is literally about to give birth, he goes, “Oh, well, the marriage contract says Gytha is to be married to the heir of this place, and that is no longer me, so Gytha goes to him.” Gytha yells at him, and Heir Number One is like “Is no one gonna ask me what I think?”  and there’s three people having  about four conversations going around in five circles and I smashed my head against the wall six times.  And then Gytha gives birth, right then.

BUT IT GOES ON.

Thayer, still not having suffered enough, goes off to fight for the king because he no longer has a title or lands that aren’t attached to her dowry.  He is not worthy for Gytha without a title and lands (because she’s too hot for him, you see) and gets himself nearly killed with MORE SCARS and literally, after not dying for the fifth time this book, tells his best friend that maybe, now that he had more scars and was even uglier, it would be better to either go off and die or let Gytha think he was dead because, again, SHE’S TOO HOT FOR SOMEONE LIKE HIM.

His friend basically gives him the slap upside the head he’s needed for the entire goddamn book and he goes home where Gytha passive-aggresses at him some more and then, mercifully, it ends.

Okay, look.  I appreciate the attempt at a hero who isn’t as hot as some of the heroes we could name have been.  I appreciate the attempt at self-esteem issues.  BUT OH MY FUCKING GOD.  SERIOUSLY.  Thayer’s whining the entire goddamn book about how she’s so beautiful and he’s so not and everyone is going to get with her and she’s not gonna want to be faithful to him and it’s exhausting.  Just…exhausting.  LEARN SOME FUCKING COMMUNICATION SKILLS.  

“I am anxious because of these reasons.” 

“When you act like you’re just waiting for me to cheat on you, it drives me bonkers because you’re being a dick.” 

She’s worried that he’s going to cheat on her, he’s worried she’s going to cheat on him, and they can’t have a conversation about it.  He just assumes she will eventually.  Not to mention the victim-blamey rape shit.  And spending the ENTIRE DAMN BOOK going “She’s out of my league, maybe it would be better if I died?”  Come the fuck on.

I’m not totally sure how much research Howell did (the names seem more Anglo-Saxon than High Medieval to me, but that’s a far cry better than picking a name that’s popular now), but she didn’t include anything that inspired any potato rage, save an order Gytha gives to her new servants that they are to bathe once a week.  (But frequent bathing is a staple of historicals, so…. we’ll let it slide.) 

There was no descriptions of clothing or foods, so nothing could be wrong.  That could be a feature or a bug, and I’m taking it as a feature.  I didn’t notice the lack of description of those things (it’s only now that I’m thinking about it specifically that I realized), and it didn’t bother me at all.   If you don’t want to research those details, that’s fine- just please don’t make shit up (like having a Norsewoman wearing velvet JOANNA LINDSAY).

Mostly I was just frustrated and tired of these two idiots.  I didn’t care if they worked their shit out.  I didn’t care if Thayer ever got over his plain looks and accepted that Gytha loved him for who he was.  I really didn’t give a shit if he ever got a title of his own or not.  As an entry into the Beauty and the Beast oeuvre, this was a damn disappointment.


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  1. 1
    Bibliophile says:

    Thanks for this. I was considering reading this book because I love to read romances based on fairy tales and myths, but have found them to vary in quality. Based on your review I’ll give it the 25% test and see if my impressions mesh with yours.

  2. 2
    Diana says:

    Thank you for the review.

    Beauty and the Beast is my favourite trope, too.

    Can you give us a list of the best Beauty and the Beast books you read?

  3. 3
    Tam B. says:

    Thank you RHG!

    I bought this whilst it was on sale because it sounded like something I’d enjoy but you just saved my wall from a big kindle sized dent.  No way could I (or my kindle) have survived this book.  I don’t mind my H/h’s with issues either of their own or relationship-wise but not this bad.

    So whilst I’m sorry you had to read this disappointment of a book, I’m grateful that you did.

  4. 4
    Amy says:

    I too was suckered in by the price and the trope. The entire book was just kind of meh. I remember thinking when I was done “well at least it was cheap” which is NOT any recommendation for a book. Love your review though!

  5. 5
    Elyse says:

    Don’t forget the squire who waxes poetic about the lushness of Thayer’s pubic hair

  6. 6
    Paula says:

    Omg what a great review! I feel like I just read this horrible book and need a cigarette, or something a lot stronger. No one likes a whiny hero. Gah!

  7. 7
    Qualisign says:

    Given my basic cheapness combined with my delight in this trope, I bought this one. I got to the point about a third of the way in where they were headed to court and decided that I wasn’t up for the obvious train wreck about to happen. I decided it was a perfect time to make up the HEA and send the file to archives, making this a rare DNF for me. I’m so glad to know that my instincts were dead on. Thank you, Redheadedgirl, for filling in the gaps and supporting my decision not to subject myself to the unnecessary pain of reading what sounds like a mess.

    @Diana: I love the trope also—when done well—and would much appreciate knowing what others think are successful efforts.

  8. 8
    Aly says:

    I read this book ages ago and I had the exact same reactions!

    Just remembering it makes me angry.

  9. 9
    Ova says:

    Evil Uncle lured Thayer into a trap so he could kiss him? He sounds conflicted.

  10. 10
    Rebecca says:

    My inner medievalist is howling right now.  First off, the names: yes, Gytha is potentially Anglo-Saxon, and thus HIGHLY unlikely for a late fourteenth century noblewoman.  To put in perspective the 300-400 year time gap that represents, it would be like having a heroine named Prudence or Temperance in a contemporary – not impossible, but at least worth a raised eyebrow.  Thayer is a surname, and my guess it is made the leap to first name in the 19th century, along with Ashley and similar.  Definitely neither English nor French.  Grrr…  Second: Thayer decides he’s not married when Gytha is about to give birth???!!???  Say what?  The Catholic Church has this thing about consummated marriages being kind of…you know…PERMANENT.  The contracts about lands may have been “insert-heir’s name-here” but marriage ceremonies were (and are) name specific, and the only way Gytha could be “married” to heir number one was if she received an anullment from Rome, and the only grounds for that (seeing she’s about to give birth) would be consanguinity, and that would screw up marriage to heir number one also, because presumably he’s related to Thayer and thus also to Gytha.  AND ALL THE PARTIES INVOLVED WOULD KNOW THIS AS A MATTER OF COURSE.  Pre-Tridentine marriages were a little more lax in terms of things like witnesses and such, and left some gray areas that were cleared up in the sixteenth century, but Gytha and Thayer haven’t been married surreptitiously or anything like that.  They have a contract which has both legal and religious force, and weaseling out of it would be a good way to get excommunicated, never mind having the mother of all lawsuits.  Third: the “forty days of service” thing sounds weird and bogus to me.  A knight’s service to the king, especially in wartime (and this is the 100 Years War) is to raise armies, and make war.  Thayer has just come BACK from doing that.  So he’s cool with the king.  Under the circumstances a casual “oh, why don’t you come to court so I can check out your wife” should set off huge alarm bells of a “am I going to end up being tortured in a dungeon for something he thinks I did?” nature, leaving no time to worry about said wife being unfaithful.

    I could keep going, but I won’t.  This is why medievals are painful to me, even though I love the middle ages.  (As a side-note, Thayer would be more likely than Gytha to order the servants to bathe – and quite possibly to bathe regularly himself – if he has any experience at all as a Crusader, or with knights who’ve fought in the Eastern Mediterranean or the Iberian Peninsula.  Baths, both public and private, were quite a big thing there, and a lot of knights brought home the custom because along with picturesque scars they also tended to acquire things like hernias and pulled muscles that felt really good when they were soaked in warm water.  Even uninjured, after riding all day while wearing forty pounds of metal it usually isn’t hard to sell someone on a long hot soak.  Can we please get over the idea that medieval people were too stupid to be comfortable?)

  11. 11
    denise says:

    this will go on my DNR list—do not read

  12. 12
    Sue says:

    I cannot stop laughing at this review. I had to take a break, it was so funny. It’s like when RedHeadedGirl’s head explodes from a WTF book, an angel gets its wings. (Or an orphaned waif comes into her inheritance, or an asshat duke is healed by the power of luuuurve.)

  13. 13
    Nessa says:

    Passive-aggressive as a verb – passive-aggresses = is awesome!!

  14. 14
    JennyOH says:

    I bought this one in the recent ebook sale, and started it a day or two ago…and just could not. 

    - The more-Anglo-Saxon-than-high-Medieval names thing jumped out at me right away.  It wouldn’t be unusual for the “working classes” to have Anglo-Saxon names like Gytha, but if you’re supposed to be Earl Whatever and his noble bride, they ought to be French/French-derived (Anne, Margaret, Isabel, et al). 

    - I wasn’t crazy about the use of “olde timey” language.  It’s a fine line to walk, I suppose, between not sounding modern but not too archaic, either.  There were a few too many ” ‘Tis”es and “sweeting”s.  Also, sorry but I cannot read about dipping one’s tongue into a mouth’s honied recesses without laugh-barfing.  Larfing?

    - I was also a little put off by the emphasis on how innocent Gytha was.  It marred what were some not-bad sex scenes. 

    – The author was constantly describing conversations that characters were having, rather than writing the conversations. 

    - I finally got fed up with the “I AM SO UGGERS MAYBE I SHOULD DIE BECAUSE MY WIFE WHO IS THE ONE WOMAN WHO SEEMS TO ACTUALLY LIKE ME AND WITH WHOM I HAVE GREAT SEX MIGHT POSSIBLY BONE OTHER DUDES”.  I didn’t toss this book aside lightly; I would have thrown it with great force except I was reading it on my iPad.

  15. 15
    Dread Pirate Rachel says:

    Ugh, I bought this when it was on the weird sale, and it’s been on my TBR pile ever since. THANK YOU, RedHeadedGirl, for saving me from the rage-smash that would have ensued had I read this. Deleting the book now.

  16. 16
    L. says:

    I sure hope that’s a typo in your review where The Villains

    draw Thayer into a trap, kiss him, and marry Gytha to Heir Number Three

  17. 17
    Linda Olson says:

    The name Gytha is actually Danish rather than Anglo-Saxon. The (Danish) mother of Harold Godwinson (the king who lost the Battle of Hastings) had that name. Much of the north of England was populated by people of Danish descent (it was known as the Danelaw at one time), and the people there resisted the new Norman regime at first. William the Conqueror put down the resistance quite brutally. It seems unlikely that any noble English family would use the name Gytha in the 14th century, but if a recent ancestor had come from Denmark, it’s possible.

  18. 18
    Heather S says:

    One book that I considered to be good stuff as a fairy tale re-telling (once again, “Beauty and the Beast”) was “When Beauty Tamed The Beast” by Eloisa James. The hero walks with a cane, a limp, and is grumpy (yes, the inspiration for him was Dr. House). The banter at the beginning was pretty darn awesome, thought I liked the last few chapters less than the beginning and middle parts.

    I don’t know why, but I almost consistently will enjoy books until the last third or quarter of them, and then I feel like everything just falls apart and the enjoyment I had the first half will be a bit tainted as a result.

  19. 19
    djf says:

    I must be kind of weird.  I enjoyed the book. Didn’t get too emotionally involved or analytical about it.

  20. 20
    Rebecca says:

    @Linda – thanks for the info on the name Gytha! The only time I’ve run across it is Gytha Ogg, from the Discworld series….given which, I can easily imagine great sex, but not so much a “Gytha” as disturbingly innocent and pure! ;)

  21. 21

    I want all beauty and beast stories to be good. It’s my favorite fairy tale too. The “misunderstanding” and belief “your mate is a cheater” themes don’t work for readers anymore. I think it worked when I was 12 years old though. Maybe we shouldn’t go back to 1992. :)

  22. 22
    clew says:

    potato rage

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA perfect.

  23. 23
    Pheebers says:

    Okay. I bought this on sale too, because I love the trope, and stupidly didn’t read the review first.  Blech.  Moving on.

  24. 24
    Meg says:

    I kind of liked it.  Yeah, it was silly and predictable, but I liked that it was the dude agonizing over his looks rather than the girl.

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