The Merchant's Daughter
I loved Melanie Dickerson's first fairy tale retelling, The Healer's Apprentice, so when I found out the second would be a 'Beauty & the Beast' retelling? Oh yeah, jumped all over that. As she did with Healer's Apprentice, Dickerson took the familiar story and shifted it, changing it subtly to make a rich, new story that kept me reading hungrily.
Annabel's father was a wealthy merchant, who lost everything - including his life. His family, unused to working, simply didn't, even though there was no way to pay the "nonworking fee" to the often-absent Lord. When new Lord Ranulf decides to move to the village to make his home there, Annabel's family faces either a hefty fine or three-years of indentured labor by one member of the family. Seeing a chance to help her family, while also escaping the very unwelcome advances of Bailiff Tom, Annabel goes to the Manor House and offers herself and her services. And so begins the heart of the story.
Lord Ranulf is a man of mystery with a dark past and quick-fire temper - though also a surprising tendency towards heroism. Annabel is a girl whose dearest wish is to escape to a convent and become a nun - where she can read the Word of God for herself. The villagers are (in general) skeptical, judgmental and superstitious, their priest's weekly sermons filled with condemnation and warnings against the evil seductions of women. Bailiff Tom is a skeeze holding a deep grudge against Annabel for refusing to marry him, and Annabel's brothers are equally as detestable. It's an interesting, colorful cast of characters and by trick of the narration we get to see both Lord Ranulf and Annabel's thoughts - thus watching as they both struggle to understand the other, and what is going on around them.
I really, really, really enjoyed The Merchant's Daughter. I felt the historical context to be very fitting, and Annabel's struggles to understand herself and her interactions with the community - especially Lord Ranulf - make a lot of sense when viewed within that context. Every week she is told by the church that she, as a woman, is evil and a stumbling block to man. Women are disdained (although their labor is certainly very welcome!), yet once Annabel does gain access to the Scriptures, and reads them for herself - she discovers there's more to life. And more to God. Her journey is one of both spiritual and emotional development, and when her moment comes at last, I cheered for her. Lord Ranulf has a compelling story of his own, and watching them grow together? Yup, everything this Beauty and the Beast-loving girl could ask for.
eBook provided by my personal library.