Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars
Narrator: Joel Leslie
Length: 15 hours, 29 minutes
Towards the end of his indentured servitude as a clerk in a bookshop in 19th century New England, Laurent is pleased when his looks and intelligence seem to catch the attention of a prominent local man, William Fain. Hoping to gain favor, and perhaps discover what it is like to be kissed by a man, Laurent is ecstatic to be asked to deliver books to Mr. Fain, but hope soon turns to horror and Laurent is confronted with how truly vulnerable his position in society makes him. When a demonic figure offers Laurent a chance at freedom if he can keep a King alive and keep a Beast in residence until his 33rd birthday, Laurent fearfully accepts.
When Beast, son of King, the president of The Kings of Hell MC, finds a beautiful but blood-soaked intruder wandering the clubhouse, he has no idea what to make of him. At first tasked with questioning him, then with treating him like a guest, Beast decides that keeping Laurent close to him will be the best way to find out what he wants to know. However, Beast’s emotions are in a constant state of turmoil as Laurent not only remains a mystery, but also seems oblivious to the scars and ink that makes interacting with the outside world a constant source of torture for him.
Both Laurent and Beast have been cursed to a life of suffering, of having their choices taken from them by the evil of those around them. They are also sensitive souls (sometimes overly sensitive) because of unresolved trauma, shame, and a desperate need for connection and love with a person who truly sees them and loves them for who they are. Naturally, their interactions with one another often go awry because of this commonality, as each knows the cost of vulnerability. In Laurent’s case, he has one terrible secret and too much to lose to be completely honest with Beast. As Laurent and Beast grow closer, the secrets and lies surrounding them keep pulling them apart, and in their desperation to have what they want most, will it cost them everything?
Laurent and the Beast is another inventive retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. Dropping Laurent into a motorcycle club, a setting which tends to buck many societal norms, yet has its own set of standards, but is naturally insular and thus, can complement, challenge and trigger Laurent’s personal demons, is great. The book also appears to take inspiration from the animated film as well, and to be honest, keeping that mind (as well as how club guys are typically portrayed in romance) helped me enjoy the story more when it comes to Beast’s character, particularly his first outburst. Otherwise, I might not have gotten past the literal temper tantrums this 32-year-old man threw after every perceived slight 19-year-old Laurent gave, particularly in the first part of the book; this “boy” (Beast’s word) that is so sheltered and naïve that Beast assumes he’s Amish and who he knows has no experience with men, but Beast has zero patience with because he can’t see past his own pain to not react this way every time.
The central element of the story is their journey together, and how their individual pain and suffering makes them both selfish and achingly vulnerable. The pact Laurent makes with the demonic entity and the fact that if he tells Beast the terms, he will be returned to his time, is important to the plot, but do not expect the paranormal to play a large role in the story; however, I do enjoy the few portrayals of the entity there are. While visually “demonic,”, its behavior is more ambiguous, which makes me wish there was more to the paranormal than there is. However, the story is very much centered on the angst and emotion between Laurent and Beast—their trauma, their fear of emotional exposure, selfishness, anger etc. So, there are several episodes of “I can’t believe I let him manipulate me with his good looks,” cue tantrum and sulk, but between the secondary characters and how well Merikan writes Laurent, as well as his adjustment and reactions to the 21st century, and again, imagining cartoon Beast having a fit and throwing furniture, it didn’t hit my angst overload button.
Had I not been listening to Joel Leslie’s narration, I probably would have skimmed more. I really enjoyed his Laurent and the 21st century characters’ reactions to him. As Leslie tends to give great performances and produce quality audio, I’m not sure he can give a bad narration, but I will say, personally, this wasn’t one of my favorites. I felt like his voice for Beast was a bit inconsistent. It started a bit grittier, and it felt like he kind of gave up on it throughout the narration and Beast just sounded angry. I know that kind of voice is tough to do, especially for 15.5 hours, so maybe that’s why the voice felt like it lost a bit of depth to me. A few scenes recaptured the vulnerability/depth, but Beast’s voice lost its nuance for me somewhere along the way. Additionally, many of the secondary/tertiary characters all kind of blurred together, except for important characters like King, Knight, and Joker or the one prospect who sounds like Eager Kid Extra #1. To be fair, I think this is just one of those cases of too much of a good thing. I recently listened to a really great narration where there were many varied and unique secondary characters, which is still very fresh in my mind. Moreover, I have listened to so many books narrated by Leslie that I may be too familiar with his voices. Like I said, an abundance of riches.
Laurent and the Beast is an interesting listen, and depending on your taste, some elements will work better for you than others. For example, the motorcycle club element worked well for me because it was pretty tame. Most of the scenes depicted in the clubhouse are parties or people just hanging out. And I don’t know if Merikan wrote this part of a scene as parody or Leslie meant to perform it as parody, but there’s a couple of classic lines found in het MC novels that sounded like bad porn that had me cracking up—that’s the level of “hardcore” MC you’re going to get. I already mentioned the lack of paranormal, but I enjoyed that the ending isn’t a typical fairy-tale HEA, and while it again misses an opportunity to explore a bit more of the paranormal in its 15+ hour runtime, it still works for the story it is telling and leaves room for the possibility in the series. If you enjoy time travel, angst, an adorably naïve young man who needs the protection of a soft-hearted ,tattooed giant, then Laurent and the Beast is an entertaining listen.