Weaving a heavy dose of romance into a familiar fairy tale, and revisiting the same family as in The Healer’s Apprentice (2010) and The Fairest Beauty (2013), Dickerson has concocted another lavish medieval idyll.
Abused by her stepsisters and her vicious stepmother (whose motivation is unclear), orphaned Gisela, whom they call “Cinders-ela,” has never lost her spirit. She has secretly admired rugged Valten, Lord Hamlin, for years. After he falls for her, she sneaks out to attend a jousting tournament, where he selects her as his lady. Valten duels the dastardly knight Ruexner, who’s driven to defeat him even if that requires cheating. Gisela’s conniving relatives maliciously conspire to have Ruexner kidnap her with the intent to force her into marrying him, but heroic Valten comes to her rescue, ultimately aided by Friar Daniel (an annoying character seemingly inserted merely to provide ample prayers and homilies). While Valten and Gisela are attractive characters, others lack the spark of life. Though it gets off to a fine start, it gradually loses its way—at least partly through heavy-handed references to other tales in the series—needlessly extending an otherwise pleasant if uninspired romance.
Nevertheless, meticulous period detail and the slightly steamy—though modestly chaste—evolving relationship between Gisela and Valten ultimately sustain this tale. (Historical romance. 11-16)