Saturday, May 21, 2016

Melanie Dickerson’s The Beautiful Pretender

For many, the search for one’s spouse can be a tricky endeavor, and this is no less true for the Reinhart Stolten, the Margrave of Thornbeck in Melanie Dickerson’s The Beautiful Pretender.  In him we find a 14th century nobleman in search of a bride, similar to many a plot in classic fairy tales. His method of choosing a wife is managed much like we see in today’s television show, “The Bachelor”, in that he invites ten women from around his Germanic realm as candidates.  At the end of their two week stay in his castle, he plans to ask one of them to marry him. Unbeknownst to Reinhart, one woman is an impostor, a mere servant girl named Avelina who is standing in for a lady who has run off with a knight.  For reasons revealed in the book, she must obey the Earl of Plimmwald or face dire consequences for her family and her community.  Not only must she attend this gathering of potential brides, but she must also remain inconspicuous and avoid being chosen.  To be selected would bring negative political consequences to Plimmwald.  Unfortunately, as time goes on, she and the Margrave find themselves drawn to each other. Complicating matters, Avelina stumbles upon a conspiracy that could not only threaten the balance of power, but her very life as well.

The Beautiful Pretender was a quick and light read which I enjoyed very much.  Many of the story themes were familiar, but I relished the way that Melanie Dickerson drew out her narrative.  There were several themes which I found interesting in particular. I liked the allusions to classic fairy tales such as Beauty and the Beast and The Princess and the Pea. Like Princess and the Pea, Avelina’s nobility is questioned, as is her character.  As the other bridal candidates were, she was put through tests to judge her character and worthiness to be Stolten’s wife.  Despite her actual lack of noble-born blood, she is found to be one of the most upstanding of the women in the group.

The Beauty and the Beast allusion was a thought-provoking one, and for the first time I found myself questioning the values behind it.  Reinhart Stolten is a wounded warrior, one who is grieving the loss of loved ones and is also earnestly looking for a mate.  Like the “Beast”, he can be grumpy, has a bit of a temper, and has secrets within the west wing of his castle.  As Avelina is drawn to him, part of her wants to get close to him so that she can help heal his broken heart. 

“Avelina would be good for him. She could make him stop scowling, could make him believe in love and goodness. She could love him out of that dark thought pattern he seemed to be in, thinking about his lame ankle and about his poor dead brother and how he could not save him.” (p.162)

As I read this passage, I found my married self balking at this notion. After over twenty years of marriage, I’ve come to understand a few things about what makes a successful union. While I’m not a perfect wife, I’ve learned over the decades that we must not enter into a relationship with the idea that we are going to “fix” our loved one.  This is especially true when looking for a spouse. We need to do as James Dobson suggests, to “Keep our eyes wide open before marriage and halfway closed thereafter.” Our spouses can be our better halves in the sense that we can encourage one another on to love and good deeds, but starting a relationship with the idea that we would “fix” them can be very risky.  Yes, we should be very aware of our future mate’s flaws.  But are they flaws that we are willing to live with for the rest of our lives? Through God’s influence they might change, but they might not.  We need to love them regardless.  Fortunately, I don’t see Avelina as a stringent fixer-type.  She seems to care about Reinhart and just wants to love him in his pain.  He also seems to open to her opinions, which she was more than willing to share, and were not always in line with what he expected in a woman.  My guess is that given her temperament, she would be an encouragement to him, and not a pestering wife.

Another interesting theme dealt with the issue of self-respect.  In this I could see shadows of Cinderella, in that Avelina is a servant girl who dons fine, tailored clothing and is one of several choices for a noble bride.  And although she is a mere hireling, she learns along the way the value of respecting herself regardless of her position in life.  Even a servant can command and deserve respect, given how they carry themselves and expect to be treated. This life lesson was something I saw growing in this character as she spent time in Thornbeck Castle, and I respected Melanie Dickerson for including it.  Not all of us can be princesses or be noble-born, but we can all have dignity and treat ourselves accordingly.  This is not about haughty pride.  It’s about being a creation of God and worthy of care.

Given the main premise of the novel, Avelina’s true identity was sure to be revealed at some point. This is a bit of a spoiler, but any savvy reader would expect that the Margrave would discover the truth eventually.  While I expected this plot point, I was surprised at how soon this revelation occurred in the story.  It was approximately halfway through the book when the truth is revealed.  I wondered how Dickerson would keep the story going, with about half of the title left to go.  Fortunately, I was rewarded with an exciting tale of power struggles, chases, injuries, romance, and even a little bit of Christian faith thrown in.  The second half was more riveting than the first, and the conclusion was delightful.  

Melanie Dickerson is an author I have wanted to read for some time now, and I’m so glad I’ve been able to be a part of this book tour for The Beautiful Pretender.  In this novel I was entertained in a lighthearted and refreshing fashion.  Dickerson’s writing is very accessible and family friendly, while still bringing some passion to the love scenes. It might not have fairies and magical creatures, but the storytelling was quite magical and a delight to enjoy.  I look forward to reading more of Ms. Dickerson in the future.

About the Author

Melanie Dickerson is an award-winning author who earned her bachelor’s degree in special education from The University of Alabama.

She has taught in Georgia, Tennessee, Germany and the Eastern European country of Ukraine.

A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Romance Writers of America (RWA), she now spends her time writing and taking care of her husband and two daughters near Huntsville, Alabama.


Join Melanie in celebrating the release of The Beautiful Pretender by entering to win her Once Upon a Kindle giveaway!

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One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A copy of The Beautiful Pretender
  • A Kindle Fire tablet
  • A $25 Amazon gift card
  • The choice between a Funko POP Disney Beauty or Beast doll

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Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry! The giveaway ends on June 7th. 
The winner will be announced June 8th on Melanie's blog.

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Paperback copy of the novel provided by Litfuse Publicity for review purposes only.

Hardback Paperback Kindle Audio

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