The Captive Maiden by Melanie Dickerson
Summary: Happily Ever After ...Or Happily Nevermore? Gisela's childhood was filled with laughter and visits from nobles such as the duke and his young son. But since her father's death, each day has been filled with nothing but servitude to her stepmother. So when Gisela learns the duke's son, Valten---the boy she has daydreamed about for years---is throwing a ball in hopes of finding a wife, she vows to find a way to attend, even if it's only for a taste of a life she'll never have.
To her surprise, she catches Valten's eye. Though he is rough around the edges, Gisela finds Valten has completely captured her heart. But other forces are bent on keeping the two from falling further in love, putting Gisela in more danger than she ever imagined.
The Good: I loved that, while there were definitely several familiar characters, several new aspects were thrown in. We haven't seen jousting at all in any of Melanie's other retellings, and I quite enjoyed learning a little about it. I also enjoyed how the tale of Cinderella was woven with Ivanhoe, and how all the elements translated into this book (the shoe, the "fairy godmother," and so forth). It was a great twist on a fairytale that is retold much too often. And of course I loved that it was a historical setting. Gisela was a unique heroine. While Rose, Annabel, and Sophie weren't pushovers, all three were a bit more demure than Gisela so it was fun to see her fight back a bit and be stubborn.
The Bad: With Melanie's past books, love developed over at least a few weeks' time. With this one, apart from Gisela's crush on Valten, it seemed a bit too insta-love. I also thought, apart from the one bad guy and his lackeys and Gisela's stepmother and stepsisters, many of the supporting characters were a bit flat and similar.
The Ugly: No foul language. A bit of violence (jousting, a guy is beat up). Romance is, for the most part, chaste. A few things are implied through conversation, but chivalry is very important for the heroes.
The Verdict: If you've read Melanie Dickerson's other fairytale retellings, I'd say this a must-read. You should definitely check out The Healer's Apprentice and then The Fairest Beauty before reading The Captive Maiden, though, just so some things aren't spoiled. Overall, this one didn't stand up to my favorite (The Merchant's Daughter), but I still enjoyed it.