After being kicked out of his house for being gay, Blaine left to stay with his grandfather. However, he is now lost in the snowy woods, frostbitten and near death, with wolves on his trail. Blaine thinks this is it for him, but he is suddenly rescued and brought to an old castle in the woods. Blaine is relieved to be alive, but things are definitely strange at the castle. It is inhabited by a witch, some servants, a brooding lord, and a mysterious, reclusive man known as Beast.
As Blaine spends more time there, however, he learns that not all as it seems. The servants are part of a wolf pack and the lord is their alpha. The lot of them have been cursed, so rather than only turn into their animal sides during a full moon, they live mostly as wolves and are human only a few days a month. When Blaine meets the alpha, he finds himself quickly drawn to Rohan. But when he meets Beast, Blaine finds himself interested in that man as well. As Blaine learns the truth behind the curse and the occupants of the castle, he also begins to realize that this group of people is more a family to him than his own has ever been. But even as it looks like there could be a future for Blaine and Rohan, there are those that aren’t happy about the “monsters” in the woods and definitely don’t want to see them have a happily ever after. Now, it will take all they have to fight those who want them dead and find a way to a future together.
Blaine’s Beast by Joel Abernathy is a Beauty and the Beast story and, as this is one of my favorite fairy tales for retelling, I was quick to pick this one up. The story was originally published as Blaine and the Beast under the author’s previous pen name and has been rewritten since then (though I am not clear how much is new). I think how you feel about this one will likely depend in part on how much you enjoy Beauty and the Beast retellings, as I think that is the strongest part of the book. Often with retellings I find that I have to search to find the connections to the source material, but here the story is very clearly tied to the original. There are many similar plot points and characters that fit the original and I enjoyed the way Abernathy really gave this a strong Beauty and the Beast feel. Having the servants be shifters stuck largely in wolf form (versus stuck as household objects) was a nice twist on the original and brought the paranormal shifter element in nicely. Things take a little diversion from the original at the end and the new direction was a little jarring, but overall, the stories link really well.
The romance side of things felt weaker for me and I never fully felt connected to Blaine and Rohan, or felt the strength of love and commitment they were supposed to have for one another. They fall into bed within basically moments of meeting, which isn’t bad in and of itself, but there is no sense of even a real physical draw between them. If two people are going to immediately have sex, I want to at least feel some lust or attraction, but it just felt flat to me. This is compounded by the fact that Blaine is a virgin and things ended with his last boyfriend in part due to him not being ready to sleep with Brad. So to suddenly have him fall immediately into bed with Rohan (whose name he doesn’t even know at this point) felt strange when there is no sense of attraction or why he is interested in him. It is like they are talking one minute and then suddenly are having sex. Also, Blaine puts a lot of stock in the specialness of losing his virginity, so not only does he hop in the sack with Rohan right away, he spends a lot of time afterwards lamenting how not-special the loss of virginity experience was (not romantic enough, etc), which again makes me unclear why he slept with Rohan in the first place. Rocky start aside, I just never really felt much connection between them. It is like the men slept together once and then we are told they are emotionally involved, but very little of that is shown on page, it just happens. They are supposed to have this intense emotional bond and be truly in love, but it just didn’t come through to me very well.
There is a found family element here among the rest of the pack, which I liked, but I found the side characters overall are pretty weakly developed. The rest of the pack is fairly loosely drawn, as are Blaine’s grandfather, Vera (the witch), the sheriff, and Brad. We don’t even learn the sheriff’s name, even though he has a prominent role in the story. Brad ends up as a villain, but we barely learn anything about him. These side characters had some interesting potential, but just needed some more character development. There is also very limited world building, either on the shifter or magical end. We do get some background on Rohan and the pack that I would have loved to see expanded, but not much is provided about the larger paranormal world that we know exists. Also, Vera’s magic saves the day over and over, but then other times somehow can’t solve the problem, and I wanted to better understand how it worked and the limits, since it was so pivotal to the story.
I also think this story suffers a little from an unclear sense of time and place. In many ways, this feels like a fantasy story, perhaps because it does draw so closely to the original fairy tale. But so much of the book feels like we are not in the modern, real world that I kept forgetting it wasn’t some sort of historical fantasy setting. There is no real sense of place as to where the story actually occurs, so my mind just sort of kept picturing this small European village a la Beauty and the Beast given how things are described. I mean, Blaine gets kicked out of his home in the small town to wander through the dark and spooky woods alone looking for his grandfather, stumbling upon a mysterious castle no one knew was there. Then, suddenly, Blaine would talk about a cell phone, or some other modern day element, and it would be jarring to remember that this was supposed to be real world, present day somewhere. It just reads so unlike a contemporary book, I found it disorienting when now and then modern elements would appear.
As I said, I think if you are fan of Beauty and the Beast retellings like I am, this story will appeal since Abernathy really does a nice job of tying the book to the source material and makes some clever additions. But the characters and the world building are just not well developed and it weakened the romance and the story overall for me.