Romance and Religion in the Middle Ages

In my ongoing quest to find fairy tale retellings, I recently found The Healer’s Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson.  I’m actually not sure how, because it’s only very loosely Cinderella, and equally loosely Sleeping Beauty.  But it was a good read regardless.

The healer’s apprentice is Rose, who became an apprentice to dodge the arranged marriage her mother wants for her.  The setting is Germany, somewhere in the Middle Ages.  There’s a little bit of fairy tale in it, but it reminds me much more of Karen Cushman‘s books, which so vividly bring history to life (another review, perhaps).  Rose finds herself torn between the two sons of the local baron, Wilhelm and Rupert.  Meanwhile, she’s also trying to figure out if a healer is really what she wants to be.  In the background, there’s a story about an evil magician stalking Wilhelm’s betrothed.

There’s a little bit of a Mary Sue situation here, where every man seems to be intensely interested in Rose.  But a couple potential interests turn out otherwise, and Rose goes through enough ups and downs in her romances that it’s not too painful a Mary Sue.  Besides, I can deal with it better when the heroine is actually a decent person with some admirable character traits (unlike, say, Twilight).

Rose and especially Wilhelm struggle a lot with trying to do the right thing.  Part of this is centered around their religious faith, which I found very interesting.  You (or at least, I) don’t often see religious characters in fiction, especially not in something that has even a mild fairy tale element to it.  I thought Dickerson handled it very well, in that their religious convictions seem plausible for their time period, without feeling archaic either.  Some of the morality tales and religious beliefs of past centuries don’t sit well with modern concepts, but there was a good balance here.

On the whole I enjoyed the book–better than Sleeping Helena, not as good as Spindle’s End (although a more satisfying romance)–and all in all a good read.

Author’s Site:

One thought on “Romance and Religion in the Middle Ages

  1. That sounds really interesting, that this author weaves religious beliefs directly into the story. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I believe you are right – that element of a character’s life rarely shows up in any mainstream fictional books. I suppose it is front and center if you read religious fiction (i.e. what’s sold in Christian or Mormon bookstores) but not in the books on the NYTimes best seller lists or what Amazon typically sells.

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