Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Captive Maiden by Melanie Dickerson

The Captive Maiden is an excellent romance novel loosely based on the Cinderella fairytale by Melanie Dickerson.

The novel opens in 1402 when Gisela Mueller is eight years old. Her father has just died and she lives now with her cruel stepmother, Evfemia, and her two daughters, Irma and Contzel.  Dressed as a beggar and now delegated to nothing more than a servant girl, Gisela is sent to the stable to help stable hand,Wido, harness the horses. Gisela loves horses, especially her light brown destrier, Kaeleb. Gisela remembers meeting Wilhelm, Duke of Hagenheim, and his fourteen year old son, Valten Gerstenberg, Earl of Hamlin. At this time, Gisela thinks she will not like Valten because he had come to her father's home to purchase one of their fine horses for Valten to use in the lists. However, despite her attempts to dislike him she notes that he seems compassionate towards the horses

Nine years later, in 1412, Valten has just returned to Hagenheim after a two year absence. He is restless despite having been all over the Continent entering numerous tournaments. In his last tournament he had defeated Friedric Ruexner, a man who hated Valten and was determined to defeat him. As he wanders the Marketplaz dressed as a peasant,  he encounters the young woman he saw only few days ago racing across the meadow. When she is confronted by Ruexner, Valten comes to her rescue warning him to leave her alone.

Worried that Ruexner might continue to harass Gisela, Valten decides he will escort her until her horse is ready at the blacksmith. They visit his horse, Sieger, which unknown to Valten belonged to Gisela's father when she was a child. After wandering around with Valten for hour, Gisela is grabbed by her stepmother and forced to leave, but she manages to tell him her name as he tells her to come to the upcoming tournament.

Evfemia warns Gisela not to attend the tournament which is to take place in Hagenheim over a period of three days. However, Gisela has other plans. After Evfemia and her daughters leave for the tournament, Gisela puts on her mother's dark blue gown, mounts Kaeleb and travels to her neighbour, Ava von Setenstete's home. Ava, who is expecting a baby soon, gives Gisela a beautiful blue scarf and insists that she ride in her carriage to the tournament. Gisela is seated in the gallery with the other young maidens. The tournament champion will choose the Queen of Beauty and Love who will have the honour of bestowing the prize to the winning knight and of accompanying him to the banquet on the final night at Hagenheim Castle.

Gisela sees Evfemia and her stepdaughters seated farther back from her but she focuses on events at the tournament. The grand marshal of the field, Duke Wilhelm announces that the first day of the tournament will see the knights participate in the joust. The knight who is champion of the day will have the honour of crowning the Queen of Beauty and Love and the winner of the second day's battles would be the overall champion. The first day of jousting sees Valten defeat all his competitors during the first half including his arch-rival, Friedric Ruexner, who behaves brutishly. During the intermission, Gisela uncovers an attempt by Ruexner to poison Valten's horse and she is once again accosted by Ruexner. Valten returns to the lists wearing Gisela's colours and wins the first day, choosing Gisela as the Queen of Beauty and Love.

Gisela is offered accommodation at Hagenheim Castle where she meets his sisters, Margaretha and Kirstyn. All the wealthy attend a banquet given that evening at the castle including Evfemia, Irma and Contzel as well as Rainhilda, a young woman who wants to marry Valten. When Valten and Gisela have a few moments together Valten reveals to Gisela that he used to enjoy the tournaments but that now he finds them a waste of time while she reveals to Valten that she has no idea what will happen to her.

The second day of the tournament sees Valten win, despite a vicious battle with Ruexner, who badly injuries Valten's left hand. The day ends with Gisela being forced to come home with her stepmother, even though she knows this is probably not the safest thing to do. As Gisela suspects, Evfemia does not intend for her to attend the ball the following day. Instead, she locks Gisela in her room and sells her to Ruexner to be married to him. Desperate to flee from Ruexner, Gisela manages to escape with the help of Ava's servant boy and she makes her way to Ava's home. There Ava prepares her for the tournament ball. Gisela arrives at the ball, telling Valten what her stepmother has done to her. But while Valten goes to inform his father, the Duke of what has happened, Rainhilda and Irma trick Gisela so she is captured by Ruexner.

Realizing she is in the clutches of his enemy who wishes revenge on him, Valten must try to save the young woman he's gradually grown to love dearly.

The strength of this novel is Dickerson's use of the Cinderella theme to create a very romantic novel that includes a handsome chivalrous hero, a cruel villain and a gentle maiden.  The author realistically incorporates the Christian values that permeated both personal beliefs and social norms of the Middle Ages into her characters. For example, Gisela resorts to prayer numerous times both for herself and for the protection and safety of Valten. Valten also prays for Gisela's safety and whenever he faces mortal danger in a tournament. Ruexner, on the other hand, despises God whom he does not fear.

Valten is chivalrous, helping the weak, always trying to do what is right and rescuing damsels in distress. He's spent the last ten years participating in tournaments throughout Europe, winning the majority of those competitions. But he feels empty, his life lacking a purpose. He needs something more in his life, not something that feeds his ego. Although Valten has trusted in God to protect him during tournaments, he has relied on his own physical prowess. But when he tries to rescue Gisela, he is unable to help her and he is forced by circumstance to place his trust in God to protect her.  Friar Daniel reminds Valten of this when they are fleeing from Ruexner.

...You are trusting your own strength to get the lady to safety. You must entrust her to God, who is the One who will ultimately  make us safe, if we are to be safe."

Ruexner is typical villain, coarse and delighting in offending fair maidens. Typically he seeks his revenge by kidnapping the fair maiden Valten has taken a liking to. He's godless and quick-tempered - the complete opposite of Valten.

Dickerson incorporates the bare minimum of the Cinderella story line in her novel; a handsome royal who meets a poor maiden living with her cruel stepmother and ugly, spoiled stepsisters. The maiden is taken from the ball, dropping a white slipper behind.

The ending is quite predictable, with a happily-ever after that sees Gisela getting her prince. Fans of romance will enjoy this light-hearted novel.

Readers who want more of Valten's family, should look for The Princess Spy which is due to be published in November, 2014.

Book Details:
The Captive Maiden by Melanie Dickerson
Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan    2013
281 pp.

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