Saturday, February 25, 2023

Book Review: The Maid of Ballymacool by Jennifer Deibel

Brianna Kelly was abandoned at Ballymacool House and Boarding School as an infant. She has worked there since she was a wee girl and will likely die there. Despite a sense that she was made for something more, Brianna feels powerless to change her situation, so she consoles herself by exploring the Ballymacool grounds, looking for hidden treasures to add to the secret trove beneath the floorboards of her room.

When Michael Wray, the son of local gentry, is sent to Ballymacool to deal with his unruly cousin, he finds himself drawn to Brianna, immediately and inescapably. There is something about her that feels so . . . familiar. When Brianna finds a piece of silver in the woods, she commits to learning its origins, with the help of Michael. What they discover may change everything.

Fan favorite Jennifer Deibel invites you back to the Emerald Isle in the 1930s for this fresh take on the Cinderella story, complete with a tantalizing mystery, a budding romance, and a chance at redemption.

In Jennifer Deibel’s The Maid of Ballymacool, readers will find elements of the classic Cinderella tale, along with many new components as well. Not the least of these is the simmering theme of Identity which is imbued throughout the narrative. Brianna Kelly inhabits the role of scullery maid in 1930s Ireland, slavishly toiling away in an estate where she is rarely shown any sort of compassion or love. Unlike the fairy tale, however, this story is a work of historical fiction, based partly on chronicled events and/or plausible incidents that are devoid of any kind of special magic. There are no transforming pumpkins or spontaneously-created ball gowns. That said, Brianna shares many common characteristics with Cinderella, as she creates ways to cope with her dire situation with grace and in God’s strength. She also struggles with an inner longing, as she yearns to be more than just an orphaned girl who labors up to twenty hours a day for her room and board. As a young twenty year-old, she makes discoveries about her identity that reach far beyond her wildest dreams. She begins to unearth clues to her clouded history, which include a mysterious connection to a handsome gentleman. This quest not only teaches her about her identity as a woman, but also about how her past will transform her outlook for the future.

The main element which drew this reader in to open the pages of The Maid of Ballymacool was the notion of a Cinderella retelling. This fairy tale/genre was my favorite as a girl, and as an adult I still appreciate the rags-to-riches theme, even if the “riches” are metaphorical. What held my interest as I read Jennifer Deibel’s novel was the quality of writing, character development, and plot execution. While not a riveting spy thriller, the story did maintain an even pace with a likable (and sometimes deliciously detestable) cast. I loved the “winks” to the source material, including lost shoes, an almost-fairy godmother-like character, a handsome gentleman of higher social rank, and a passing mention of “goin’ to a royal ball.”

The Maid of Ballymacool does fall under the umbrella of Christian fiction, as certain elements of that faith are mentioned. Some characters do utter short prayers, and the notion that one’s identity and self-worth can be found in God is raised from time to time. Brianna loves to fellowship with God in nature. Deibel makes her beliefs clear, but they are not shoehorned into the content. The story of Brianna Kelly, Michael Wray, Maureen Magee, and others carries the day. Some adult themes are mentioned, including adultery and some physical abuse endured by a few individuals. However, the details given are minimal and not gratuitous. Any coarse language on the printed page is safe for all ages. The romantic element of the narrative is certainly an important aspect, but the details are sweet and fairly chaste. 

Jennifer Deibel is a new author for this reader, and I very much enjoyed her latest work The Maid of Ballymacool. Lovers of Ireland, Cinderella, early 20th century historical fiction, and even Downton Abbey will find much to recommend in this novel. Much like Cinderella and Brianna Kelly, the search for significance is a common theme in the lives of many. Ultimately our identity will not be found in our job titles, but in who God says we are. As God’s creations we are all of value and worth, and to quote one line from the novel, "Yer purpose in this world has precious little to do with what job ya hold. It's to do wi' the way ya impact the people around ye." 

Read the first chapter of The Maid of Ballymacool here!

About the Author

Jennifer Deibel is the author of A Dance in Donegal (winner of the Kipp Award for Historical Romance) and The Lady of Galway Manor (a Parable Group bestseller). Her work has appeared on (in)courage, on The Better Mom, in Missions Mosaic magazine, and in other publications. With firsthand immersive experience abroad, Jennifer writes stories that help redefine home through the lens of culture, history, and family. After nearly a decade of living in Ireland and Austria, she now lives in Arizona with her husband and their three children. 


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Laura. It intrigues me that the novel is set in Ireland and inspired by the fairytale Cinderella.



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