Monday, November 10, 2014

The Captive Maiden- Melanie Dickerson

 Zondervan, November 23rd 2013 
302 Pages

Happily Ever After...Or Happily Nevermore?

Gisela's childhood was filled with laughter and visits from nobles such as the duke and his young son. But since her father's death, each day has been filled with nothing but servitude to her stepmother. 

So when Gisela meets the duke's son, Valten--the boy she has daydreamed about for years--and learns he is throwing a ball, she vows to attend, even if it's only for a taste of a life she'll never have. To her surprise, she catches Valten's eye. Though he is rough around the edges, Gisela finds Valten has completely captured her heart. 
But other forces are bent on keeping the two from falling further in love, putting Gisela in more danger than she ever imagined.
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I decided to read this before Mrs Dickerson’s latest book The Princess Spy to ‘catch up’- although her titles are really standalone books and you don’t need to know what happened in one to follow the other. As what it is advertised to be a Young Adult Fairy Tale romance it generally delivers well- though it must be admitted that some parts seemed corny or else the characters and decisions just seemed silly to the point of being almost painful for the audience, simply because they fell for ploys that were so glaringly obvious.

As with the others the setting is Medieval, this time the second decade of the 15th century (1400s), yet another reviewer remarked that the setting did not seem as authentic as it did in the others. In some ways, I’m inclined to agree, but not for the same reasons. The mention of ‘coachmen’ was the main ones that seemed out of place- more at home on the seventeenth or eighteenth century that the fifteenth. Now carriages did exist in the Middle Ages- but they were really little more than covered wagons and quite cumbersome affairs- not like the smaller, lighter and faster ‘coaches’ of later centuries, which is what the description of them in this novel made them sound like.

Then there were the jousting scenes- which others have criticized for various reasons- such as them being themed around a Queen of Love and Beauty. That was not an issue for me, I suppose as someone who has been adaptations of Ivanhoe which these passages were inspired by.
My main gripe, as an Englishwoman who has seen ‘real’ jousting and tournaments a number of times, was the mention of combatants’ helmets flying off.
I have never seen such a thing happening at a joust- it would seem to defeat the protective purpose of helmets if they came off with one blow. From what I have seen they were quite securely fastened- and jousters of the 15th century usually wore padded doublets under their armour for extra protection- so the notion of stabbing naked skin under joins in the armour did not entirely ring true either.

The problems aside, and without wanting to sound too critical The Captive Maiden was a good story, which clearly echoed the Cinderella fairy tale, and sometimes resembled Ever After with Drew Barrymore and Anjelica Huston- but without the fake accents. It was good to see Valten, eldest son of Rose and Wilhelm, finally coming into his own, confronting some of his demons, and finding happiness, as well as some important messages about overcoming pride and bitterness. Gisela was a typical heroine- though I felt she did not always live up to what Valten said about her being brave.

There were, inevitably, kissing scenes, but the characters didn’t seem quite so consumed or obsessed with it as they do in some stories, so it was perhaps a little less ‘fluffy’ on the romance side than other such novels. There was enough romance, excitement and intrigue to keep even an adult wanting to read to the end. I did like the way that issues surrounding Medieval marriage laws and customs were dealt with towards the end (albeit in in the manner or a rather sudden realization), rather than the author just falling into the trap of assuming forced marriage was normal or acceptable.

Overall, this was a sweet inspirational story, with a few issues, but generally worth the read. I would recommend for younger reads above the ages of 11 or so, with adult discretion.

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