The Merchant’s Daughter
Zondervan, Nov. 29, 2011, $9.99
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 behavior 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.
The Merchant’s Daughter by Melanie Dickerson is a YA take on the classic fairytale “Beauty and the Beast.” In this version, there’s no magic; instead, the plot and the romantic relationship explore the beastliness of everyday humanity, and how it might be overcome. It’s set in what seems to be medieval England, with a number of interesting gritty details about daily life. Like a medival morality play, the story is presented along moral lines as much as romantic ones.
The heroine of the tale, unlike in some versions, is from a beastly family herself. Annabel’s family has been impoverished by the death of her father, a wealthy merchant. Through subsequent inaction, they have ended up in the predicament that leads to Annabel facing two choices: being forcibly married to the lecherous bailiff, or spending three years as a servant to the physically maimed and bad-tempered Lord Le Wyse, recently arrived to take over his lands.
The first meeting between hero and heroine resembles Jane Eyre’s first encounter with Edmund Rochester. Even though Le Wyse rescues Annabel from her unwanted suitor, his barely-throttled rage when doing so frightens her badly. He’s a type of man she’s never encountered in her narrow world, and she has a hard time parsing his behavior at first.
A black patch covered his left eye, and a scar cut a pale line down his cheek, through his thick brown beard, and all the way to his chin…
"I warn you not to hope for preferential treatment. My father’s steward may have taken bribes, but I’m the lord now, and,” he fairly growled, “it isn’t in my nature.” He turned in one swift motion, mounted his black horse, and galloped away…
He was as scarred and disfigured as everyone had said he was, but it was his ferocious manner that made her nervous…The episode in the village had shown that Lord le Wyse had an ill temper. Though it could show his desire to protect women. But he hadn’t seemed very chivalrous when he accused her of throwing herself in front of his horse.
Her true opponent, however, is the bailiff, Tom.
Since Bailiff Tom was Lord le Wyse’s bailiff and worked directly for him, he would be at the manor house — with her — skulking about — every day. He would look at her, speak to her, could manage to get her alone . . .
Le Wyse, however, continues to protect her from Bailiff Tom. A great deal of his goodness is shown through his responsible behavior towards the people who tenant his lands.
Annabel, too, is shown over and over again to have a good heart, though she’s shy and timid and has had little opportunity to express herself. Her goal in life before she became a servant was to become a nun, and thus a scholar.
While her family and the villagers expected her to marry, Annabel’s dearest wish was to enter a convent, to read the Holy Writ, to know all that God had spoken; but without money from her father’s ships, it was impossible. Convents were a haven for the daughters of wealthy families.
Her loyalty to her uncaring family also prevents her from this goal. She stays with them, even while knowing they don’t treat her, or anyone else, with respect.
Annabel huffed. Leave it to her mother to moan about the easiest part of the ruling. What was so bad about that? At least no one could accuse them of shirking their responsibilities any longer. And as free landholders they wouldn’t have to work as many days as those of villein status. [Her brother] Durand looked, not doubtful, but hopeful. He wanted to sell her to the bailiff as much as Edward did.
Just as Le Wyse must overcome his distrust of women, Annabel must learn to trust in herself, and express her own desires. In this version of the story, intellectual and spiritual accomplishments help Annabel, as well as her growing love for Le Wyse, who overcomes his beastliness with her caring support.
Victoria Janssen is the author of three erotic novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen from Harlequin Spice. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.