The Captive Maiden
Reviewed by: Jasmine Bennett
I have long been a fan of Melanie Dickerson’s writings. She is the author of several books that I would describe as fairytales re-written for young adults, with surprising twists and romance. My all-time favorite of her books is The Captive Maiden. It tells the story of Gisela, a beautiful girl living in Hagenheim. Her mother and father died when she was young. However, her stepmother has full control of the household, and of Gisela’s life. Soon, Gisela goes from being a stepdaughter to practically a servant. Her life consists of cleaning and doing chores. She grows up with and clings to a dim memory of her parents, and a few of her mother’s things.
“Valten admired the way she walked: confident, flowing, graceful, but with a hint of boyishness, as if her horse was more important to her than her hair or clothing.”The Captive Maiden, page 20
Soon, Gisela (and her horseback riding skills) catches the eye of Valten, a handsome young man, living in the same region. He hasn’t met anyone like Gisela before. She is kind, beautiful, and also bold, in a gentle sort of way. He becomes suspicious when he sees Gisela’s stepmother, Evfemia, treat Gisela badly. When he inquires about Gisela’s family, she is vague, not really wanting Valten to know how she is treated.
Something to contemplate when reading The Captive Maiden: Will someone always turn out to be a product of their environment? Or, can they see for themselves the crisis they are in, and push back against it? I think that The Captive Maiden encompasses that very thought and puts words to it.
Gisela, above all values the horses that her father had raised. Her and Valten, the future duke of Hagenheim, share an interest in horses. They form a friendship, and he pleads for her to come t the jousting tournament, that he will be participating in.. Even though she risks punishment from her stepmother and stepsisters, she comes to the tournament anyway, dressed in her finest, and is named the tournament queen. Then, she is treated like a queen for the rest of the three-day period.
Valten, fascinated by Gisela, invites her to come to a ball that his parents are throwing for his birthday. He is supposed to find a wife, and he does not want just any woman. Especially not Rainhilda, a gorgeous daughter of nobility, who is aiming for Valten’s heart. She is rich, and flirts relentlessly with Valten. What makes it worse, is that she holds Gisela in contempt, seeing her as a rival. Rainhilda should be gracious, and let Valten do his own bride-choosing. But “all is fair in love and war…”
“With her wild hair and ragged clothes, Gisela was certainly no Rainhilda.”
The Captive Maiden, page 34
I like this book because of how chivalrous Valten is, how brave Gisela is, and how the description makes you feel as if you are there, witnessing it. Medieval fiction is one of my favorite genres, with knights, swords, and everything embodying a time when small kingdoms under larger kingdoms reigned.
My Overall Review:
Character development: I would give it a 10/10. I think the characters grow immensely, each of them develops throughout the book, especially Gisela’s, since she is the main character. In the beginning of the book, she is a small girl who deflects the abuse she receives with hate. She decides she doesn’t care, and that she is numb to her emotions. As she grows older, she realizes that there is love in the world, even though the cold treatment her stepmother and stepsisters give her is all she feels for awhile. Valten grows in his own way. First he thought that the victory from winning the tournaments would quench a thirst for purpose, but then he discovers he is once again restless and wants a richer life that is filled with meaning. My only critique is that I would have preferred to have more time for Valten and Gisela to fall in love. However, that would have only made sense for Gisela. She probably would have a harder time trusting people after the way her stepmother and stepsisters had treated her. So I think it would’ve taken a little longer for her to trust and fall in love with Valten, especially since she is more self-reliant than most of the girls in the region. But Valten has more of a “get-it-done” personality, and moves quickly and confidently, even though he doesn’t have any experience in flirting or courting girls.
Plot: 10/10 The plot is quite satisfying, and a good balance of peril and love. I won’t give too much away, but the plot continually pulls you along, bringing in each new scene smoothly and clearly.
Grammar: 10/10 The grammar is definitely top-notch. It seems very professionally edited, and I found the sentences are very easy to understand and well-connected, making for an interesting read all the way through. I also appreciated that every time a foreign word appears for the first time, it’s italicized, so it stands out.
Description: 10/10. As a fairytale re-written for a realistic, medieval setting, it evokes the very things one would expect to read in a fairytale-romance. It describes everything perfectly, from Gisela’s emotions, to the colorful tournament flags, and Valten’s visible scars.
Setting: 9/10 The setting seems to be accurate, and all the terms and words are used correctly. Since it takes place in Hagenheim, a region where German is the language, there are German words sprinkled throughout the book. The land terrain in Hagenheim is accurate and well-defined. However, I thought the setting could have been more defined in the sense of adding in more traditions of that time, although admittedly, the focus should be on the story, not history.
I would recommend this book as a beautiful get-away for anyone who likes clean fairytale romances, and a rich story, illustrated by the words that it is written with.