The Merchant's Daughter
by Melanie Dickerson
All Annabel Chapmen has ever wanted is to become a nun. To set her hands upon a Bible, to read the Holy Writ with her own eyes. To discover if it really says what their village priest claims, that all women are evil, nothing but a snare of Satan. But when her merchant father's ships were lost, her dream sank too. And when her father died in the pestilence, it seemed the whole future wavered. And now, now the Chapmans are to be held accountable for the last three years of shirking their duties to the lord of the demesne. Her uncaring brother tries to arrange a marriage for her with the nasty Bailiff Tom so that he will pay the fine they owe, but Annabel cannot. She simply cannot.
She would rather accept the penalty for her family and become a servant at the manor of the newly-arrived lord. At least there, no one can force her to become the wife of a lout. Although that lout is far too close for her peace of mind, and continues to follow her around with his lechery and threats. Praise be to the Lord that there is always someone there to provide safety--usually the beastly-looking Lord Ranulf le Wyse.
Ranulf may have lost his eye and injured his arm through an act of heroism, but the resulting injuries have made him repulsive to any female--something he learned the difficult way when he made the mistake of marrying a woman he thought loved him, but who had instead tread upon his heart before succumbing to the pestilence. Best to turn it cold and draw upon the fierce temper everyone expects anyway, given his ghastly appearance. And best to steer clear of all beautiful maidens--especially the lovely new servant who seems to find trouble every time she moves. He will do his best to protect her from those who would hurt her.
But who will protect his scarred-over heart from her?
The Merchant's Daughter is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, so there are certain elements you know without doubt will be there. The beastly-looking man whose outside appearance goes hand in hand with a fierce temper . . . but a protective, fair heart. The lovely heroine with a desire for books rather than a husband. The full cast of supporting characters that range from delightful young boy to the menacing would-be suitor.
But it's also so much more. This is a story that plunged me directly into a world long-since gone, into the heart of a girl who just wanted to see the Scriptures. Just wanted to read them, and couldn't find a way . . . until she's forced into a situation she thought could render nothing good. Annabel and Ranulf's story is one of yearnings restrained and fears made manifest, of sacrificial love and tender emotion. Compelling from the very first page, these characters will win your heart.
It's been a long, long time since I've been able to find the time and energy to read a book in less than a day--in the last year, even really excellent books take me weeks to read. But The Merchant's Daughter stayed in my hand all morning last Sunday, and I scarcely put it down until I'd finished it. I knew when I spotted it on the shelf that it would give me exactly what I needed--an interesting, involved, beautifully transporting read--and it exceeded my expectations. I read this book in one gulp and loved every second of it!
Billed as a young adult novel, this is one I intend to give to my teenaged niece for her birthday, for sure--but it's also one that women of all ages will enjoy, especially if they have a love for fairy tales. Melanie Dickerson has done it again with this amazing medieval romance, and I just can't recommend it enough.
So go! Order one, pick one up off the shelf, borrow one--whatever you have to do to get your hands on it--you'll thank me. So I'll just say "you're welcome" now. ;-)