Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Merchant's Daughter by Melanie Dickerson

I received this book as an ARC from NetGalley.

If you know me, then you’ll know that I have a soft spot for fairy tale retellings and if that fairy tale just so happens to be Beauty and the Beast that’s even better! Beauty and the Beast has long been my favourite fairy tale – maybe it has something to do with the idea of falling in love with the beauty on the inside, despite outward appearances. Or it could be because watching the Disney film is the first film memory that I have. Whatever the actual reason, anything Beauty and the Beast pretty much automatically gets a spot on my TBR.

I’d been vaguely aware of The Merchant’s Daughter for some time before someone pointed out to me that it was a Beauty and the Beast retelling. As soon as I heard that, I knew that I was going to read it. So when I found in on NetGalley it was an automatic request and happily I got approved.

Title: The Merchant’s Daughter
Series: Stand-alone
Author: Melanie Dickerson
Publisher: Zondervan
Target Audience: (older) YA
Pages: 304
Chapters: 20 + epilogue
PoV: 3rd person
Tense: past tense

Story: An unthinkable danger. An unexpected choice. Annabel, once the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is trapped in indentured servitude to Lord Ranulf, a recluse who is rumored to be both terrifying and beastly. Her circumstances are made even worse by the proximity of Lord Ranulf's bailiff---a revolting man who has made unwelcome advances on Annabel in the past. Believing that life in a nunnery is the best way to escape the escalation of the bailiff's vile behavior and to preserve the faith that sustains her, Annabel is surprised to discover a sense of security and joy in her encounters with Lord Ranulf. As Annabel struggles to confront her feelings, she is involved in a situation that could place Ranulf in grave danger. Ranulf's future, and possibly his heart, may rest in her hands, and Annabel must decide whether to follow the plans she has cherished or the calling God has placed on her heart.

(from Goodreads)

Thoughts and impressions: The opening paragraph or two of this week are really on the rocky side. Don’t worry, though, it picks up. As I read them, I was worried that the whole book would follow in that same vein but luckily the author soon found her feet.

The original premise is that Annabel’s family have been shirking their duty in the fields for three years now, since their merchant father’s death, and with the new lord coming to the village they’re going to have to pay up. Annabel is determined that she’ll show the villagers that she’s willing to pull her weight and that they shouldn’t hold her in contempt. If this was so important to her, I couldn’t help but wonder why she had never bothered to go against her family’s wishes in those three years if the villagers’ opinion of her mattered that much. I suppose that really that was just there to show that Annabel is not haughty like the other members of her family and to get her into Lord Ranulf’s service.

When Ranulf is introduced, he is described as being a muscular man with one brown eye (he lost the other one and wears a patch over it), brown hair and a big, bushy beard. Also, all he ever does is bellow. For a while, his speech tag is almost exclusively “he bellowed”. All I could think of was Brian Blessed playing King Richard IV in the first series of Blackadder.

Not at all flattering, but there’s the brown hair and eyes, the big, bushy beard and the inability to talk at anything less than an ear-splitting bellow. There’s a difference of about 20 years in age, but that’s only a small matter! The man depicted on the book cover is very different to this, of course, but nothing could shift this image for me throughout the whole book.

The story is set in the mediaeval period, in the 1300s. The author’s attention to detail is admirable and it lent a realistic air to everything that you don’t always find in stories set in the Middle Ages. This meant that I was able to slip into the story very easily and quickly got caught up in events. It also made this religious side of the story easier to accept. I hadn’t realised that this was Christian fiction when I started the book but it soon became obvious. However, I have read books written in the 1100s and there is often a fixation on religion. Here it stems from Annabel’s desire to read the Bible. She wants to read it so much that she also wants to enter a convent to study it. Thankfully, the religious message was not so strong as to segregate me as a secular reader, though I would have liked to have seen more of them bonding over other things (in the same vein as Ranulf’s burns) rather than the bonding mostly happening over shared religious beliefs.

Her family, of course, aren’t quite keen on this idea and they’d much rather sell her off to the Bailiff in exchange for their debt being paid off for them. I have two things that it’s worth mentioning here and I’m going to start with the family. Really, I didn’t feel that they were used enough. They were there in the beginning to set the scene but then after that, other than one short confrontation and then later a minor appearance by one of the brothers, they don’t reappear. I would have liked to have seen how their circumstances changed, or even how they tried to weigh in on Annabel’s budding friendship with the new lord, but they’re just ignored. As for the Bailiff, he’s only ever depicted in a bad light – as a pervert and a sleaze and unkempt bully – and yet all of the other villagers are willing to follow him. None of his good points are ever shown and so when I’m expected to just accept that the other villagers like the guy, I can’t suspend my disbelief that far because I’ve not been given anything to go on for it. At least in the Disney movie, Gaston was shown as being charismatic and very handsome to explain why he’s able to wrap all the villagers around his little finger.

Annabel goes into service for Lord Ranulf as a way of wriggling out of the marriage that her family is trying to force on her. Ranulf, of course, saves her from it, but Bailiff Tom isn’t going to take this refusal lying down and he gets up to all sorts of evil schemes to try to get the wife he desires. Ranulf has been hurt by a woman before and he’s promised himself that he’ll never fall in love again, but it would seem that he has his work cut out for him to keep that promise when he meets Annabel. They bond over reading the Bible and the slow burning romance between them was a real joy. Both parties are aware of their feelings for the other but neither is willing to act on them.

Annabel herself is a bit on the perfect side with the author focusing on her good side so much as to totally eclipse the tiny hints of flaws that we occasionally see. I also didn’t like how she thought about the other men – Gilbert was too much, especially when she felt revulsion at the mere prospect of him touching her. It should have been left at just Bailiff Tom. Ranulf is much more rounded. Once he’d got past all his bellowing he quickly became the sort of character that pulls at your heart strings as you root for them in every aspect.

If you’re in the mood for some clean historical romance and a bit of fairy tale magic, this book is the perfect choice.

Style: It’s obvious that the author put a lot of time and effort into making her style fit the era as much as possible (given the huge evolution of the language since then) and it really pays off. 

Final verdict: A Christian read that will also appeal to secular readers. An Enchanting retelling of the tale of Beauty and the Beast. 4 stars

Extra notes: No bad language. No sex.


Post a Comment

Hi - thank you for commenting. I love comments. What's more, I'm a big believer in comment karma! :) If you leave a comment, I will do my best to get back to you and leave a comment on your blog in turn (please keep in mind that this may take a few days!).