Review of “The Princess Spy” (Hagenheim #5) by Melanie Dickerson

Dickerson, Melanie. The Princess Spy. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014. 

Paperback | $12.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0310730989 | 293 pages | YA Historical Romance

2.5 stars

Melanie Dickerson’s Hagenheim books have a tendency to be okay at best, and very much marketed either to the Christian and/or teen demographic. And this one is much the same in that regard, although even by those standards, it is unfortunately the worst.

I have mixed feelings on her choice of fairy tale for this story, and how she diverged from it. While I can’t say it is the best retelling of “the Frog Prince,” in that, unlike other books in the series, it sheds many of the plot elements of the story, and the story itself is pretty contingent on the presence of magic, which the series does not have, I did not find it a huge negative. It definitely gave the Margaretha and Colin more to do, although I find myself, much like I did with The Captive Maiden. wishing she hadn’t set up the precedent of having each book based on a classic fairy tale, as I once again found the plot elements that were original to Dickerson much more interesting than her half-hearted attempts to include references to the original, this time even more so. I could have done without the attempt to tie in Colin being a frog by dressing him up in green clothing while he is in disguise in Hagenheim, or him rescuing Margaretha’s bracelet, because both had little bearing on the actual story.

The characters are also typical Dickerson in that there isn’t a lot of depth to them, and they are generally perfect. I could deal with that for the most part, as I want characters who are competent if the story is going to be heavy on action. But there are no internal flaws, and it is even worse in this case by the over-emphasis on a somewhat petty flaw of Margaretha’s: talking too much. While a discussion question at the end seems to suggest this might have been an issue in a historical context, this isn’t well substantiated in the text, aside from Colin calling her a “flibbertigibbet.”

And this segues into another issue I had with the book: the silly misunderstandings and resulting angst over feelings, indicating the audience it is likely meant for is definitely on the younger side. While I can understand leaving home is not an easy decision, in any time period, this was the only issue I felt there was any grounds for a misunderstanding, and even then, it could have been resolved through communication, instead of obsessing over it.

That being said, I have for the most part enjoyed most of Dickerson’s work, and will be continuing with the remaining books in the series to see where she takes it next. I would recommend it to Dickerson fans, especially those who can overlook some of the issues I brought up.

Review of “The Captive Maiden” (Hagenheim #4) by Melanie Dickerson

Dickerson, Melanie. The Captive Maiden. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013. 

Paperback | $12.99 USD | ISBN-13; 978-0310724414 | Christian Fiction/Historical Romance 

3 stars

My interest in her Hagenheim series tapered off after initially reading the first three ages ago, particularly as a Cinderella retelling seemed odd coming directly after a Snow White retelling (a similarity that the characters in the book acknowledge). But Melanie Dickerson never left my radar completely, and my interest (and skepticism) was piqued with the release of her Aladdin retelling, which compelled me to go back and read this one, as that one also follows the family of Willhelm and Rose, unlike the prior installment, The Silent Songbird, which was a stand alone.

And like many of Dickerson’s books, I find myself liking some things, but finding some of the same issues as before. On the plus side, I enjoyed seeing Valten as the hero. He is the opposite of his charming brother Gabe, and I find it refreshing to read about a hero who isn’t so sure of himself with women, but has his heart in the right place. I also loved his interactions with his family, and I look forward to seeing more of them in the next few books.

However, Gisela is one of those heroines who I often hear about in Christian fiction who seem a bit too perfect. She’s beautiful, kind, and brave in the face of adversity, but I didn’t find that her personality was rounded out with many discernible flaws, other than the fact that she’s a bit too trusting of people she really shouldn’t trust to begin with. And I honestly felt if some of the Cinderella aspects were toned down, it wouldn’t have made much difference, as the stepmother and stepsisters just seemed to go through the motions of being bad, especially since they were secondary to the main villain.

However, I did enjoy the writing of Ruexner and how his backstory was revealed. At first, he seemed like a standard villain without much in the way of layers or substance, but I liked the subtle hints that built up to the big reveal of his fixation with Gisela, rooted in deep personal issues. While it is not exactly an original background for the villain, I did feel like it added more substance to him in a way I did not expect, especially given the revelation.

Review of “A Viscount’s Proposal” (The Regency Spies of London #2) by Melanie Dickerson

Dickerson, Melanie. A Viscount’s Proposal. Grand Haven, MI: Waterfall Press, 2017. 

Paperback | $12.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1503938649 | 279 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

4.5 stars

Despite liking most of Melanie Dickerson’s books, I had mixed feelings when she launched her Regency series. On the one hand, I was excited, there are only a handful of Christian authors who write Regencies. But I found myself overcome with an unfortunate sense of snobbery when she promoted book one, A Spy’s Devotion, by talking about how she had read Jane Austen, but wanted to write something more approachable to modern readers. I’m just paraphrasing, but this statement and the blandness of the prose of that one led me to DNF that one after one chapter…and subsequently lose track of the book. But as is often the case these days, a book club friend reading these had me considering giving the series another chance.

And I am very glad I did. It is not lost on me that while I had intense (and perhaps unwarranted) prejudice against the first book due to first impressions, that this one ironically grapples with that issue in an incredibly Austen-esque way, along with her criticism of the hypocrisy of high society. I found Edward and Leorah sympathetic and enjoyed watching their relationship with each other evolve from dislike and misunderstanding to compassion and love. A pivotal scene for me was the scene in which they discussed Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, with Leorah seeing it as merely an entertaining story, and Edward as a story with a good message that people can learn from. This reminded me of the discussions that book clubs have today, with different readers each taking something different from the same text, while each enjoying it.

In terms of the mystery, it was obvious who was behind it pretty early on, but I was quite shocked when the motive was revealed. This brought up a very important thing to consider, whether one is religious or not, in terms of whether one ought to cast blame for someone’s actions on their family members, who are completely innocent of wrongdoing.

Review of “The Noble Servant” (Medieval Fairy Tale #3) by Melanie Dickerson

Dickerson, Melanie. The Noble Servant. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-7180-2660-8. Print List Price: $14.99.

4 stars

I enjoyed this one a bit more than her previous book, and her writing style for her adult medieval fairy tales is just as refined as I remember from a year ago. While I was a bit unsure as to how the story would fit together without feeling arbitrary, as there are similarities between “The Goose Girl” and The Prince and the Pauper, the tales Dickerson chose to adapt and weave together this time around, I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it.

The two leads, Magdalen and Steffan, who first met in the prior book, The Beautiful Pretender, are both compelling, and their growth is a large part of the book. Steffan seems at first a lot like many other heroes in historical romance, so full of their own importance but also with a tragic past that leads them to be set against marrying for love. But we get to see him grow as a person, and you truly root for him to resolve his situation and win his lady. I am unsure what to say about Magdalen. There’s nothing bad about her, but there’s not a lot that really set her apart in my eyes. She was pretty much kind of a bit too perfect throughout, and I see why some people might be turned off by inspirationals for that reason.

The supporting characters are wonderful though, and you see the growth in them as well. I love how Agnes and Alexander are written as characters who you think are irredeemable at the beginning, but as the story goes on, you get the sense that they’ve fallen in love through being thrown together, and these circumstances have changed them. And I have to commend Dickerson on how she wrote Lord Hazen. He is depicted as so ruthless, he will kill anyone, even his own son, if it will achieve his ends, and trying to imagine someone like that is terrifying.

 

Review of “The Silent Songbird” (Hagenheim #7) by Melanie Dickerson

Dickerson, Melanie. The Silent Songbird. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2016. ISBN-13: 978-0-7180-2631-8. Print List Price: $14.99.

3.5 stars

This the first Melanie Dickerson book I’ve read since reading The Beautiful Pretender (2016) upon its release, and the first Hagenheim book I read since first falling in love with the series with the first three books, but then becoming slowly less interested in her Young Adult material. And the overly simplistic writing of the first installment her so-called “Austen-inspired” Regency series further turned me off reading anything but her adult medieval books. But as I did grow up with a fascination with Disney’s Little Mermaid, I decided to give her one last chance.

And while I would still classify the writing style as a little too simple for an adult reader, the style would be appropriate for a teenager with an interest in fairy tales. And while it is a part of a series, it is only connected in part to at most two of the other books, with the hero of this one being the son of the hero of The Merchant’s Daughter, with another relation of his making an appearance in The Princess Spy. (See the explanation of the first five books here). As such, this can definitely stand alone, for anyone who loves The Little Mermaid, or fairy tales in general.

As for the characters, they were what kept me from giving up on the story despite the writing style. Evangeline is a heroine who escapes the confinement of the Castle, trading the possibility of a potentially abusive marriage for the life of a servant, despite some people who believed she would give up. I admire that she found the strength to do this, and chose to learn how to defend herself. Westley is someone who, unlike what we think of as the stereotype for medieval lords, has compassion for all people, and even forgives Evangeline for her deception.

The plot itself, while not incorporating any of the magical aspects of the original tale or the Disney version, has some recognizable bits and overarching themes, with the idea of a young woman escaping from the comforts (which she might sometimes see as confines) of home and going to a new, unfamiliar place. However, like many novel-length retellings, the story is fleshed out, and I enjoyed how she incorporated the conspiracy aspects of the medieval time period into the plot.