The Spice Merchant's Daughter by Fran Orenstein 5 of 5 stars.
In 1685, Jean-Claude Dubois, son of a French spice merchant, escapes from the violence against Protestant Huguenots and sails to Prussia. Jean-Claude falls in love with Marie and they marry and have a daughter, Katy. At thirteen, fluent in French, Katy is sent away to be the companion of spoiled, aristocratic Charlotte, to tutor her for a marriage into French nobility. Katy must accompany her to France, where she meets the blacksmith's apprentice, Gilles. Their love appears doomed, when the family takes her to Versailles for the wedding. They remain there for two years, while Charlotte's lecherous brother Franz pursues Katy to become his mistress and although terrified of him, Katy is powerless to help herself. Finally Katy and Gilles are reunited when the family returns, but Franz, enraged at Katy's stubborn refusal, frames Gilles for attempted murder, sending the young couple fleeing for their lives across the French countryside. (book blurb)
The Spice Merchant's Daughter opens through the eyes of Jean-Claude Dubois as he is making his escape from France with his younger brothers in tow. It then continues to follow him all the way to Prussia and to the new life he has made for himself there, away from the King of France's tyranny. When his oldest daughter, Katy, is thirteen the narrative switches to her.
It is a heart-wrenching look at the lives of people in that time, particularly women. Forced into becoming a sort of governess and companion to the young Ms. Charlotte, Katy slowly becomes a young woman as she falls in love, stands up to the King of France, and helps Charlotte through her own rough spots.
Fran Orenstein did a remarkable job with this novel. Her prose has the rich and wonderfully simplistic tone of a storyteller. I believe that The Spice Merchant's Daughter would make a great audio-book, and that isn't something I say very often.
The cast of character was interesting and fairly well-rounded. From Charlotte and her betrothed to Katy's own struggling parents and her love Gilles, they all added something unique and different to the story; contributing toward a many-threaded plot. I must say, though, that I didn't quite understand Gilles as a whole. His love for Katy didn't seem quite genuine, and beyond that love I don't see any other motivations for his actions throughout the book. More than likely, however, this is just me reading too deep into the story.
While I liked the book as a whole very much and hardly put it down the entire time I read it, I didn't really enjoy the beginning from Jean-Claude's point-of-view. As soon as the story switched to his daughter it was like another book entirely. The writing gained depth and the plot thickened into something concrete.
This is a YA novel, in my opinion, based on the content, but I do think that the younger end of the YA audience will enjoy the story much more. That said, it is best to keep in mind that this novel does have sexual content that some under 13 might not feel completely comfortable reading.
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