Running almost concurrent with the timeline of another book in the series (The Golden Braid), this book remains true to the germanic-flavored historical fairytale retelling of the rest of the Hagenheim series. The book can stand alone, but those who’ve read other books in the series will have the benefit of seeing what’s become of some favored past characters.
Margaretha, the eldest daughter of Duke Wilhelm and Lady Rose, recognizes it is her duty to marry advantageously. She had been holding out hope for a love match--stalling to the point that her younger sister is now of marriageable age. She’s in the middle of allowing a gaudy English Lord to court her when a severely injured foreigner arrives at Hagenheim castle. While she assists in his care and recovery, the man raves incoherently in English. Margaretha then finds it difficult to believe him when he recovers his wits only to accuse her current suitor of a heinous murder…
Note: The fairytale connection is a bit more tenuous than in any of Dickerson’s other books in the series, at least in this reader’s opinion. I made it all the way through without connecting that it was loosely based on The Princess and the Frog. But then again, other books have had more blatant tip-offs in either the title or the names of characters. I doubt most readers will find this bothersome.
What I Liked:
-I ended up liking Margaretha far more than I’d anticipated. The blurb had me braced for a naïve chatterbox with delusions of romantic idealism, but what I got was considerably more complex. I LOVED that reader’s first glimpse into her mind was a scene with her being thoroughly distracted by her would-be suitor’s kitschy hat fixation. (I may or may not have then spent the rest of the book mentally referring to Claybrook as: Lord Fancy Hats.) While there’s no attempt to deny Margaretha’s lack of experience with the world outside of Hagenheim castle, her limited exposure doesn’t make her entitled, self-important, or otherwise irritating. She is believably intuitive and quick to adapt, while exuding a bit more exuberance than most of Dickerson’s previous heroines.
-Despite the relatively condensed timeline, the romance is slow-burn and believably impeded by a number of factors—not the least of which is a language barrier.
-This book continues Dickerson’s trend of accessible historical nuance. Most germanic and medieval terms were either explained or were easy to puzzle out from their context. Although, the word ‘solar’ was frequently used but never explained. (It is an upper chamber in a medieval house. You’re welcome.)
What Didn’t Work For Me:
-The prologue felt rushed—almost an afterthought. While it gave some idea of the motives and situation for Colin, it didn’t quite engage me emotionally or connect me to any of the characters. It took me a lot longer to feel any kind of way about Colin than I would have liked. Even when I did start to care, I never quite felt connected to his backstory.
-From the blurb, I would have thought that Margaretha was a lot more enthralled with the idea of a grand romance with Lord Claybrook than proved actual. From the get go she wasn’t meshing well with the man, and seems well aware. The trouble is more her age and cultural/familial expectations—combined with the fact that she’s already turned down several suitors. She’s considering settling for a man she sees as eccentrically vain but well-intended, when a strange Englishman with a head injury interrupts her efforts.
Also, from the title I was expecting a bit more spying going on. But Margaretha’s actual spying amounted to just a scene or two.
-I do wish there had been a more memorable example of Margaretha failing to keep a secret, as that might have helped explain her insecurities in that area. It was repeatedly insinuated that she talked too much, but the spats in which she did so felt a bit forced for emphasis rather than true to her nature. (External chattiness was more of a nervous response and didn’t seem to match her internal monologue.) Her spiritual life also didn’t seem to bear much distinction from other heroines in this same series.
-The prose throughout contained a bit of unnecessary recapping and repetitious facts that felt as though they could have been trimmed out. (Most of these instances centered around Margaretha’s “prattling” or the rehashing of how Colin’s sister’s best friend was murdered.)
In the final analysis, I’d place this one right at about the same enjoyment level as The Merchant’s Daughter--if that means anything to existing followers of the Hagenheim series. Readable, but not quite as strong as others.