Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Merchant's Daughter - Melanie Dickerson

Title: The Merchant's Daughter
Author: Melanie Dickerson
Publisher: Zondervan, 2011 (Paperback)
Length: 268 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction, Fairy Tale
Started: June 9, 2017
Finished: June 10, 2017

From the back cover:

Annabel, once the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is trapped in indentured servitude to Lord Ranulf le Wyse, a recluse who is rumoured to be both terrifying and beastly. Her circumstances are made even worse by the proximity of the lord'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 bailiff's vile behaviour and to preserve the faith that sustains her, Annabel is surprised to discover a sense of security and joy in her encounters with Lord le Wyse. 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.

I'm off the graphic novel kick I was on for the past month, and back to Beauty and the Beast retellings. What can I say, the end of the school year is looming and my students are driving me crazy, so I fall back on my perennial favourites to cheer me up.

This particular retelling is an interesting one because it is very overtly a Christian one. I didn't know this before I read it, and normally I stay far away from overly Christian anything. Don't get me wrong, I'm Catholic and I teach religion classes (in addition to English), I just like my religious symbolism to be a little more subtle and a little less heavy-handed. This book definitely is very heavy-handed and not subtle at all, but I have to give the author credit because it completely works and is appropriate given the context of the story.

Taking place in the mid 1300s in England, Annabel was born into a merchant family with more privilege than the rest of the people in her village. Not only is Annabel literate and otherwise well-educated, her family could pay to avoid working the fields for the lord of the area. When Annabel's father dies and his ships are lost, her family becomes indebted to the lord, so they are ordered that one family member should serve for three years under Lord le Wyse to repay their debt. With her mother and brothers begging her to marry the bailiff, Tom (who has agreed to pay their debt to the lord in exchange), Annabel instead decides to serve the lord in part to escape marriage to a man she despises.  She eventually finds her niche in le Wyse's household: as the only servant who can read, she is the one who the lord asks to read aloud from his copy of the Bible every evening. Being the 1300s before the dawn of the printing press, pretty much the only thing available to read at the time was the Bible, and even then only if you could read Latin. Since Annabel is educated and can read Latin, this is pretty much the highlight of her evening. So Annabel and Lord le Wyse wax philosophical every evening and bond, and eventually Annabel has to decide whether she truly wishes to go to a convent or to love Lord le Wyse.

Again, the Bible-thumping is pretty blatant, so if you're anti-religion this might be a turn-off. I feel that although it is a bit much, it actually does fit the context of the story given the time period (gotta love the uber religiosity of the pre-Enlightenment period). The book is a super fast read, so of course there is some depth and development that is sacrificed for that.

Worth the read in my opinion, purely because it's different, but not my favourite. I heartily recommend Heart's BloodCruel Beauty, and Megan Kearney's Beauty and the Beast as my favourite retellings if you wish to get right to the good stuff.

Thoughts on the cover:
Decent, but not amazing; but it works for the context of the story.

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