Friday, March 24, 2017

"The Merchant's Daughter" by Melanie Dickerson

So many of you have recommended Melanie Dickerson's fairy tale retellings to me over the past few years, and I have several of her books on my to-read list.  When the price for the e-book version of Dickerson's version of "Beauty and the Beast" dropped recently, I decided to give it a try.  And I read the whole thing in only three days, which necessitated a couple of extra battery rechargings for my phone.

So, yes, I definitely enjoyed this book!  The Beast, Lord Ranulf le Wyse, reminded me a lot of Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre, but with a less lurid past.  And the Beauty, Annabel, was a sweet blend of curious and patient.  She learned a good lesson about the importance of honest, and he learned not to expect others to judge him by his appearances.  I liked both of them a great deal, and if I should find this book in paperback at some point, I might just buy a copy.  (I infinitely prefer reading real books over battery-dependent e-books, and if I really like a book and know I will want to re-read it in years to come, I want that book on my physical bookshelves.)

I'm reading some Hemingway and Fitzgerald short stories right now too, for the high school lit class I'm teaching our niece, who is in ninth grade.  And I know I've said before, here and elsewhere, that while I absolutely love the way both those gentlemen write, I don't always love the stories they tell.  I bring this up, because The Merchant's Daughter was exactly the opposite for me -- the story and characters grabbed hold of me and wouldn't let go, but Dickerson's writing itself was pedestrian.  And that's okay -- I'm certainly no Hemingway or Fitzgerald myself.  I would have liked some more subtlety in the emotional changes within both characters, but my taste is not everyone's taste.

If I have one real quibble, it's that Lord le Wyse had an almost historically impossible grasp of God's love and forgiveness, the way that his grace extends to sinners.  The story is set in 1352, 165 years before the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, and while the parish priest holds the kinds of views I would expect in the pre-Reformation era, le Wyse is impossibly enlightened and Reformed in his understanding of Scriptures.  Dickerson talks in her Author's Note at the end about the research she did into Medieval England's judicial system and societal customs -- it's my opinion she would have done well to research Medieval theology as well.

Particularly Good Bits:

Her servant status could almost be a blessing.  This thought surprised her.  She'd felt abandoned by God, but maybe He had actually been taking care of her by sending her here.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for repeated assaults against a woman's virtue, talk of women tempting men, and some discussion of feeling desire for others.  Nothing really risqué, as my mother would say, but also not appropriate for children.

This is my first book read and reviewed for Heidi Pekarek's Adventure of Reading Challenge!


  1. I have the same problem with Melanie Dickerson's books: I generally enjoy her stories and characters, but the writing itself tends to leave me unimpressed. Despite my annoyances with some of the writing, though, I can't deny I have a soft spot for her novels because her first novel was the first book I ever pre-ordered in my life, because I was so excited to find a Christian fairy tale retelling! Thankfully since then I've been able to find tons more, but back then the genre was still very new to me. The Merchant's Daughter is probably my favorite of Dickerson's books. Then again, it is Beauty and the Beast, so I guess that's not too surprising ;)

    1. Hayden, I'm glad to hear it's not just me! I definitely enjoyed it, I just didn't admire her writing. But it does take talent to create stories and characters that suck me in like that.

      My library has several of her other novels. Any recommendations?

    2. Hmmm...The Healer's Apprentice and The Captive Maiden are two I think I'd recommend. The first is Sleeping Beauty and the second Cinderella.

  2. Hi, Rachel! I know, you're probably stunned to see me at all active in the blogging world, but I'm going to put in a bigger effort this year. I can't let work related stresses completely take over my life, and I miss my blogging friends. So hi!

    Your review made me laugh, especially the bit about the Beast being so incredibly Reformed in his view of religion. That does seem to be an interesting habit a lot of historic authors have, incorporating very modern religious ideas into a time period where they couldn't possibly have voiced them without being accused of heresy and lit on fire.

    Still, I do like how you've described the heroine, and I've been curious about Melanie Dickerson's books for quite a few years now. I know April's going to be swamped with classic children's books, but I might attempt to read it in May. You've at least piqued my interest a great deal.

    And I'm totally with you when it comes to Hemingway and Fitzgerald. In fact, I don't think I could have put it better myself how I feel about them!

    It's good to be back!

    1. Carissa! I am always happy to see you wherever and whenever you pop up :-) But I'm sorry to hear work is so stressful! I've missed you too.

      Yes, it very much felt like, "Oh, we'll talk about a lot of bad Medieval theology, but we'll have this one dude who's miraculously enlightened so we can include good modern theology too." Yeeeeeeeeeah, I understand the desire, but it was not the best execution, I guess?

      The heroine was quite cool, though at one point she did something that made me worry I was going to hate the rest of the book (I have a hard time dealing with stories where, if only a character would quit lying about something, the story would be resolved in three pages -- it's a pet peeve of mine. Happily, it didn't go that route!) If nothing else, this is a really fast read, so why not give it a shot?

      So cool you feel the same about Hemingway and Fitzgerald!

      It's good to have you back :-)

  3. I always get annoyed when CFR authors insert their own Protestant theology into a medieval story, too! It's like they're saying, "My hero/heroine has to be a Good Person, and the only way for them to be a Good Person is to accept *my* theology, no matter how historically inaccurate it is." And me, the Catholic reader, is just sitting over here like #nope. I respect Melanie Dickerson's beliefs, but I want her to respect mine in return.

    (Plus, the way Protestant authors often present Catholic theology is often so inaccurate--I don't know if that's the case here but I've seen it a bunch of times in other books. And it makes me angry.)

    1. Jessica, I agree. Either write it with medieval theology or change your setting.

      In this case, the beliefs weren't so much Catholic as just medieval -- the parish priest preached that women are evil and cause men to sin just by existing; that all sexual desire is bad, even within marriage; and that reading the Bible is not important. Catholics were not portrayed as bad, the the parish priest was portrayed as a misogynist misleading his flock.

  4. This is the first Melanie Dickerson book I read, and I liked it. To be honest, I wasn't really enthralled with it. From reading your review and looking back on how I felt when I read the book, I think it was mostly from the writing style of the novel.

    I read a couple of her other books but personally, they kind of tired me out. I can only read too much Christian fiction. I get tired if I read too much of it.

    That is so interesting that the theology did not match up with the times! I do not know very much about Protestant history, so I would never have caught that. That is extremely interesting! I'll have to reread this book.

    1. Ekaterina, I tend to get tired of any kind of fiction if I read it a lot -- mysteries, historical, classic, fantasy, romantic, whatever. It's part of why I read such a variety.

    2. I read a wide variety too because of the reason you listed for yourself. You're also one of the few people I've met that likes to read a variety of books.

    3. I'm the same with movies -- I watch and enjoy movies in all genres except horror/slasher (and even there, I do enjoy a good vampire movie now and then), but I know people who refuse to watch movies solely based on their genre or when they were made. "I don't like westerns" or "I don't watch rom-coms" or "I don't watch old movies." Everyone has their own taste, I guess.

    4. Hmm. That's interesting. I guess I'm kind of like you. I also will not watch horror. I will not sleep at night because after my mind has an image, my imagination goes wild, and I need to sleep. I even have to watch what mystery/suspense/thriller movie I watch. One time Mom got tired on a Saturday night when we were both watching "Witness for the Prosecution." Although we didn't know it then, we stopped 20 minutes till the end of the film. I could not sleep at night because I was so afraid Charles Laughton would die. Long story short, I ended up keeping my family (Mom and Dad) awake, so that we were so tired, we didn't go to church the next day.

      I guess each person's taste in films and books is very different and specific, which then reflects who they are.

    5. Yes! I can't watch horror because my imagination is too vivid. I can scare myself silly with memories of the handful of horror movies I watched when I was a foolish teen and didn't realize how much I would regret them over the years. I have to work really hard not to think about them.

      Suspense I'm better with, but I would rather watch them all at once, for sure. I want to get through them as quickly as I can.


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