Melanie Dickerson writes Christian fiction retellings of fairy tales and sets them in medieval Germany. She says on her web site that she has “always loved fairy tales and been fascinated by the prospect of fleshing out traditional fairy tales and turning them into an in-depth romance. I was fascinated by the idea of taking a well-known fairy tale and making it real, with realistic characters and realistic reactions to their circumstances.” There are no magic wands or fairy godmothers in her stories, so the issues have to be worked out a bit more realistically. Having previously enjoyed The Merchant’s Daughter (based on Beauty and the Beast) and The Healer’s Apprentice (based on Sleeping Beauty), I snapped up The Fairest Beauty (based on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves) when it came up on sale for the Kindle app.
Sophie is a scullery maid for the wicked Duchess Ermengard, who throws her into the dungeon for things like rescuing the puppies that the duchess had ordered to be drowned. Sophie doesn’t see any way out of her situation, so she tries to make the best of it. Believing herself to be an orphan, the cook, Petra, is the closest person Sophie has to a mother, and another servant. Roslind, is her best friend. Somehow, despite her miserable upbringing, she is good and kind, and many love her (this is a fairy tale, after all. 🙂 )
What she doesn’t know is that she is the daughter of the presumed-dead husband of the duchess, and the duchess is actually her step-mother, who treats her as she does because she is insanely jealous of her. Only two servants in the entire castle know who Sophie really is, and one of them has just escaped and traveled several days’ journey to Hagenheim Castle, the home of the man Sophie was betrothed to years ago, Valten. Unfortunately Valten is laid up with a broken leg and can’t leave immediately to investigate this claim that the girl he thought had died years ago is alive. His younger brother, Gabe, decides on his own to go and rescue Sophie. Though he sincerely feels that God would have him do so and that Sophie might be in danger, his motives are primarily to best his brother this one time and to be the hero.
Once he finds Sophie, he has to ascertain whether she really is the daughter of a duke and then try to convince her of that. Then they face several days’ journey back to Hagenheim, facing dangers from the henchmen the duchess has sent after them and wolves. Along the way they begin to fall for each other, each fighting it at first because they are both betrothed to others.
Since this is based on Snow White, we know how the story will end, but it was fun to see how Melanie worked out the details of the issues the couple faced as well as the classic fairy tale elements, like the poisoned apple and the seven dwarves (I’ll let you discover that for yourself. 🙂 )
One thing I especially enjoyed in this book were the spiritual journeys. Sophie had to learn to trust and to let God heal her from the lies the duchess had been telling her all her life. Gabe had to realize that he had acted with wrong motives and that his impetuosity could put Sophie in danger physically and possibly hurt her reputation.
One little part I didn’t like was that, as they were becoming more aware of their interest in each other, there were mentions of Sophie noticing his muscles and being disconcerted when his shirt was off due to tending a wound. I don’t doubt that those things would happen in those situations, but I just don’t like to go there in books that I read. Thankfully, that was just a small part of the book.
I did also enjoy an unexpected tie-in with a couple of characters from A Healer’s Apprentice.
Overall I enjoyed this book quite a lot and look forward to a couple of others Melanie has written in this same vein.
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)