June 7, 2012

Rich storyworld with an intriguing culture

The Duke's HandmaidThe Duke's Handmaid by Caprice Hokstad

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At the outset it seems that Kee's choosing slavery over a life of freedom and poverty is based on a desire to live in the Duke's palatial home, with access to luxuries like hot running water and abundant food. But in truth, she is drawn to his house not by material things, but by her loyalty to him.

I may be reading into things a bit, but I see Kee's decision to willingly be the duke's slave as mirroring the church's "enslavement" to Christ. I asked Caprice about this:

I didn't really try to make everything fit a tight analogy, but I think I did create some parallels here and there, some conscious, some not. Some critics have said my books are anti-Christian, and to them I point out that St. Paul used "bondservant of the Lord" far more often than he called himself an apostle.

After some action-packed and unflinchingly violent opening chapters, the book settles into a slower pace, as farmgirl Kee is trained in etiquette and protocol so she can serve the duke as a slave. She learns about the brutal realities of slavery, but teaches others some lessons about submission and servanthood in the process.

The plot shifts into high hear for the second half, which is loaded with intrigue and chicanery, daring escape and noble sacrifice.

The author is occasionally a little too textbook-like in describing her speculative storyworld. Nevertheless, it is a rich setting, and her descriptions of it, though forced at times, are quite good. Although the duke’s culture is very different from our own, it is internally consistent -- a necessity for good fantasy.

The characters are well-rounded and engaging, and I enjoyed the story. I look forward to reading the sequel, Nor Iron Bars A Cage.

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