The Beautiful Pretender
By Melanie Dickerson
Thomas, Nelson, Inc., 2016
By order of the king, the margrave of Thornbeck must choose a wife from a list ten noble ladies, and he must do it soon. Although he isn’t pleased, Lord Thornbeck knows he must choose someone and so he invites all ten ladies to his castle for a two week trial to determine which will make the best wife.
Lady’s maid to the spoiled Lady Dorothea of Plimmwald, Avelina is used to being a second class citizen. But when Lady Dorothea runs off with one of her father’s knights just before she is to leave for Thornbeck, Lord Plimmwald orders Avelina to take her place and pretend to be a lady in order save Plimmwald’s reputation and build good relations with the margrave, who could be a powerful ally against a looming threat. If she is successful, she will be rewarded with a dowry that will allow her to marry. If she fails, her entire village could be in danger. Avelina must balance between making a good impression and keeping her distance, because if Lord Thornbeck chooses her, she will be forced to tell him the truth.
Putting the ladies through a series of discreet tests, Lord Thornbeck finds the only lady that stands out to him is Lady Dorothea. She is beautiful, kind, and opinionated, and despite her best efforts to the contrary, he chooses her as his bride, only to be informed that she isn’t a lady at all. Angry at being played by a servant girl, he determines to punish Avelina and push aside his feelings for her so he can choose another lady. But there are others in the castle who aren’t who they appear to be either and it soon becomes clear that both the margrave and Avelina’s lives are in danger. Working together is the only way for both of them to stay alive.
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I was so enchanted with the book I shared with you last week, The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest, that I jumped straight into it’s sequel, The Beautiful Pretender, and found that I was equally as enchanted, if not more so, than I was with the first one. This book deals with class discrepancies and the fact that everyone deserves a certain amount of respect just for being a child of God. Avelina helps Lord Thornbeck realize this, or more like helps him put the idea into practice. I don’t want to make it sound like he was a bad guy before she influences him. He’s already a good guy (feeding orphans and such), but he’s a little hung up on the conventional ideas of how nobles should interact with the serving class.
Avelina is stuck between a rock and a hard place, trying to play the part of a lady with confidence in order to save her family. She hates that she is playing a part in this deception, but under orders from Lord Plimmwald she really doesn’t have a choice, which is what she has to make Lord Thornbeck understand when he finds out she isn’t who she pretended to be. A growing attraction to the grumpy but handsome margrave adds to her guilt, because she knows she can never marry him and she doesn’t want to hurt him. Underneath a gruff exterior, Lord Thornbeck is as kind as she, but he is slow to trust and finding that his trust in her seems misplaced is devastating to him. But with both of them thrust into life and death situations he quickly sees that she is the same person he originally judged her to be, only without the title of Lady that is necessary for them to marry.
Both main characters are well fleshed out and likable, though with enough flaws and stupid decisions to make them feel real. There are lots of interesting supporting characters, both good and evil, that help round out the story and I liked how many surprises this book held as far as nefarious characters. I also loved the danger and non-stop, fast-paced action in the last third or so of this book. It had the same ending elements I admired in The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest, where I was waiting and watching to see how in the world the author was going to tie up all those loose ends into a nice, neat bow. Somehow she did and the ending was very satisfying. Now I’m waiting for the 3rd book in the series, The Noble Servant, to be released in May 2017.