England: 1352. Annabel Chapman is a beautiful maiden whose father used to be a wealthy merchant. After his ships were lost at sea and he died, Annabel became the only person in her family who did any work. Her mother and her two brothers were as useless in the face of their new poverty as possible, and thought themselves above doing their share of work to pay their censum. With a new lord, the former corrupt steward can no longer protect the family.
The village jury says that only indenturing one family member to the lord for a period of three years will pay the debt. Because Annabel is so noble (and her family so useless) she volunteers to go. This means giving up her last hope of entering a nunnery, but she’ll sacrifice anything for her family. Why a nunnery? Her merchant father taught her to read, and she longs to read the Bible for herself. She doubts that everything the village priest spouts is in the holy book.
The lord’s bailiff provides a way for her to avoid becoming an indentured servant–he will marry her. But Annabel is terrified of the man, his leering looks, his stinking breath, and his heavy hands. No, she’s willing to submit to her lord rather than marry anyone, especially the bailiff.
For his part, Lord Ranulf is greatly disfigured. A beard hides the worst scars on his face from an encounter with a wolf, but one arm and hand are deformed. The villagers are not keen to honor their new lord, who is rumored to have a temper as well.
Annabel only finds him to be kind, if aloof. Upon learning she can read, he asks her to read for him from his Latin Bible in the evenings, truly a highlight of her day.
When the bailiff continues his attempts to overcome Annabel, it seems the nunnery might be the only place of safety for her. But what of the growing love between Annabel and her lord?
The Merchant’s Daughter is a historical young adult novel that is loosely based on the fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast. The author did extensive research into the time period and truly brought to life the small village, the adjoining croft house of the master, and the mores of the day. One negative, to me, anyway, is that virtually all of the characters remained static. Those who were ‘bad’ remained bad to the end, while the good ones rarely had a lapse. Only one character made significant changes, and I’ll leave it to you to figure out who that might be! Truly, I still enjoyed much about the story.
Melanie Dickerson is the author of The Healer’s Apprentice, a Christy Award finalist and winner of The National Reader’s Choice Award for Best First Book. She earned her bachelor’s degree in special education from The University of Alabama. She has taught children with special needs in Georgia and Tennessee, and English to adults in Germany and Ukraine. Now she spends her time writing and taking care of her husband and two daughters near Huntsville, Alabama.