I would love to say that the following tepid review is heavily influenced by the fact that I am something of a Beauty and the Beast snob, but unfortunately, The Merchant’s Daughter suffers too many flaws to exempt it from my general criticism.
Dickerson contributes a few interesting twists to what starts out as a fairly typical adaptation of the classic fairy tale. Forcing Annabel to become an indentured servant to Lord Ranulf to pay off a family debt lent an interesting set-up to the standard story. Shades
of other classic fairy tales and novels flutter about Dickerson’s novel, with Annabel enduring ungracious and hateful relations a la Cinderella, unforeseen wolf attacks reminiscent of Little Red Riding Hood, and numerous shades of Jane Eyre, including a first encounter with the hero on horseback, a house fire, and a crazy, vindictive ex-wife.
Sadly, Dickerson failed to execute on the most crucial element of any Beauty and the Beast story, never allowing Annabel and Ranulf enough time together to cultivate a believable romance. There were a few touching scenes here and there, and I particularly liked their interaction in the final scene, but ultimately there was never a foundation that I felt comfortable resting their relationship on. I attribute this partly to the fact that Ranulf’s house was bustling with servants rather than empty or filled with silent staff as in most Beauty and the Beast retellings. Though I give Dickerson credit for going against the grain, the constant presence of others stifled the necessity to connect with each other that makes the evolution from stranger to something more so believable in other versions of the tale.
Yet the worst offense that this novel commits is the fact that Dickerson simply has no way with words. Sentences are short and straightforward. Characters state how they feel and constantly ask themselves questions that put a spotlight on issues other authors could have conveyed with subtlety. I was confused as to whom Dickerson thought she was writing. It seems incongruous simultaneously to underestimate one’s reader’s ability to follow a more nuanced narrative that relies on emotion rather than adjectives to get the point across, while at the same time expecting the reader to know what a demesne is. I was also somewhat put out by the introduction of heavy-handed Christian preaching halfway through the novel. Perhaps if it had been billed as Christian fiction the transition wouldn’t have seemed so abrupt, but I was disappointed that many of the characters’ hesitations were ultimately resolved not by forcing character growth, but rather by falling back on faith.
While Dickerson had a few interesting ideas, her lack of style and oft-awkward dialogue prevented me from becoming immersed in her story. Still, for the Beauty and the Beast collector, it’s worth checking out.