Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Merchant's Daughter - Melanie Dickerson


PROS: Well-researched historical detail; compelling storyline

CONS: Main character has no flaws

Annabel was once the daughter of a wealthy merchant, but when her father died her family was required to work for the local Lord, just like the rest of their neighbours. Having been forced by her mother to neglect her duties, Annabel fears what fate might befall her family when the new Lord takes up his position. The local bailiff offers to marry Annabel in return for paying off the family’s debt to the Lord, but Annabel cannot stand the thought of being married to such a despicable man, especially when he makes inappropriate advances on her in public. Annabel offers herself to servitude to the Lord so that she can repay her family’s debts without being forced into an arranged marriage. Much to her surprise, she finds a sense of freedom from working for Lord Ranulf, especially when he asks her to read to him each night from his Latin Bible. Having always dreamed off entering a nunnery so that she could study God’s Word, Annabel is thankful for this opportunity, especially coming from such a mysterious man. Rumours circulate about Ranulf, particularly relating to his eye-patch and scars. As Annabel and Ranulf spend more time together, she comes to understand that his past isn’t as disturbing as she’d thought, simply saddening. But Annabel is not entirely free from her troubles, and her relationship with Ranulf is rocked when her flight from an attack leaves him possibly charged with a vicious assault. Now even more unsure of her future, Annabel must trust in the God she has been coming to learn about in Ranulf’s Bible.

I’m always a little cautious whenever I read a book that’s aimed at a young adult audience, but the idea of a historical romance based on the fairytale of Beauty and the Beast appealed to me. I’m glad I took the plunge with The Merchant’s Daughter as I was utterly captivated from the first page and found it very difficult to put this book down. The medieval setting was perfectly described and as accurate as my historian’s eyes could tell. The story itself was compelling, not only because I wanted to keep reading to see how many similarities I could to the original Beauty and the Beast fairytale, but for the simple fact that Annabel’s plight was so real that I wanted to jump into the story beside her and help her escape her marriage to the bailiff.  

I have to admit, my knowledge of Beauty and the Beast mainly stems from the Disney film, so I had to do some research to see what the actual original tale was. But I can assure you that even if you’ve never even heard of Beauty and the Beast you’ll still be able to enjoy this story. The reason that fairytales are retold and adapted over and over is because the stories are so popular, in whatever form they take. I imagine that The Merchant’s Daughter is going to be equally successful, with both adults and teenagers alike. I couldn’t quite figure out what made The Merchant’s Daughter essentially a young adult novel, except for the length of the book and the fact that Annabel is a teenager. But since the term “teenager” didn’t exist until the 1950s and girls were generally considered to be old enough to marry and start families as soon as they hit what we would now consider their “early teen years”, Annabel has to deal with lots of adult conflicts. For this reason, I would say that this book would be suitable for older teenagers, those who are around fifteen or older. There is nothing too descriptive or graphic in The Merchant’s Daughter, but I think that Annabel’s story just might not hold the attention of younger teens.

I did find my interest waning slightly towards the end of the book when Annabel was attacked. While you’d think that I’d find the book even more compelling at this point in the story, this wasn’t exactly the case. My main issue with The Merchant’s Daughter was simply that Annabel seemed too perfect to be real. I like my heroines flawed and a romance is always made more interesting if the heroine has something personal to overcome in her own life as well as in her relationship with the hero. Sadly, this wasn’t quite the case with Annabel, and while she had plenty of stumbling blocks placed in her way by other characters, she had nothing personal to overcome that was holding her back from her own happiness. I’m not sure how a teenage girl would react to a character so perfect as Annabel. Personally, I was a bit irked by how perfect and flawless she was and I vouch that younger readers may react negatively as well.

While I did find the character of Annabel to be too perfect for my liking, her story was nonetheless compelling and I found the book difficult to put down in places. Both young adults and more mature readers of historical romance will undoubtedly enjoy The Merchant’s Daughter and I predict that Melanie Dickerson’s forthcoming books will be a big hit in the young adult market.

Review title provided by Zondervan.

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