Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Review of 'The Merchant's Daughter' by Melanie Dickerson


 Kindle Edition, 272 Pages
 Zondervan, 2011

"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 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 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".
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Opinion: I felt the storyline of this novel was good and this is a sweet and compelling Romance novel with a fairly original concept. I don’t well remember the Disney story of Beauty and the Beast except for talking candlesticks and fairies, and you won’t find any of that here. Dickerson instead opts for a more realistic version of the fairy tale set in an actual historical time and place- in this case 14th century England.

The themes of the hero finding reconciliation and peace with God and man through true love were well presented, and seemed to fit in well with the transformation of the beast in the tale. The heroine Annabel's elation at reading the Bible in her own language for the first time was quite believable without seeming contrived. Some have complained about her character having no flaws, but I personally did not think this seemed to be the case all of the time, though she could see, a little too ‘goody goody’ in some parts, she also became jealous, and frustrated and could be stubborn.

The hero Lord Ranulf (the beast) was likeable enough and is sufficiently tough, courageous and manly to be appealing- though he seems fierce and aggressive initially. The only aspect of his character which seemed overbearing was his heroism, risking one’s life to rescue a servant girl was one thing, but braving fire to single- handedly save a few sheep from a barn, when other people were around who could help just seemed  contrived.

The writing style was something of an issue for me it simply seemed rather over simplistic. This is only the author’s second novel, so perhaps such is to be expected but it seemed that the author was not making good use of the “show don’t tell” device in her writing. Thus we are told “she felt” thus or “he felt” like this, and the adverb “a bit” crops up over a dozen times.

As a British reader, reading a book in which Medieval English characters use modern American Idioms such as ‘go tell’ instead of British equivalents like ‘go and tell’ is a little problematic and frustrating, yet it is an almost inevitable consequence of reading a novel written by an American who is not familiar which such linguistic nuances.
By and large, the language of the medieval characters was plausible, or at least passable, and though in some places it did seem a little too modern, there did not seem to be many modern words and phrases which stood out.

I finished this novel with rather mixed feelings, it was enjoyable enough and certainly readable but it fell rather below my expectations were which were perhaps too high as an adult approaching a romance novel aimed at teenage girls. I may well read more of this author’s work, but with such considerations in mind.

Christianity/Morality : There is no swearing, nor extreme violence or sexual content in the novel, though one character does make advances towards Annabel a few times. In one scene the former tries to rape Annabel in one scene, but this is not graphically described. 
Annabel thinks upon how good looking and physically attractive Lord Ranulf is quite a few times, but for the most part this is simply corny and there is nothing smutty or lewd about it. A few of the servant girls make suggestive remarks about him.

Mrs Dickerson to her credit is also willing to at least mention concepts such as sin and the necessity of repentance, which some Christian authors may shy away from, or avoid altogether. There is also much exploration of Christian concepts through Annabel and Ranulf's reading of scripture. Finally, as mentioned above the overall theme of the novel appears to be that of reconciliation, forgiveness, and finding peace though faithfulness and surrender to the will of God.

Historical: The level of historical accuracy, authenticity and research seemed to vary in some places. For instance, the scenes referring to the 'Hallmote' (local community court) and customs or laws regarding duties for peasants as well as the investigations of an itinerant bailiff appeared accurate and show the author has done her research in these areas. Nor did it seem historically implausible for a 14th century woman of the merchant class to have been literate in Latin or English. Passages such as this could make the historical detail appear inconsistent, as it seemed as though the author had devoted much time and energy to researching some aspects of the historical setting, but not others. Perhaps again though, I am being too pedantic!

Personally, though, I could not imagine a Medieval nobleman like Lord Ranulf risking his life to save a servant girl from a wolf; especially since wolves were all but extinct in England by the 1300s. I think it would perhaps have been more plausible for Ranulf's scars and injuries to have resulted from battle wounds- which could still have allowed for the heroism and self-sacrifice of his saving another person. Also it seemed rather unlikely that a nobleman, would not have any soldiers or guards in his employment, and so would be left alone at the mercy of a peasant mob planning to attack his manor.

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