Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bella at Midnight

by Diane Stanley

Thumbs up.

Ms Stanley is a natural story teller.  In this medieval tale she lets the characters tell the story, each in his or her own chapters, intertwining it all in a captivating yarn.

Maud reaches her sister's bedside in time to find the newborn Isabel a wet nurse.  Isabel's mother does not recover; but the child is safe for now, out of the reach of her cold-hearted father.

Young Alice grieves for her father who has been lost at sea.  When news of this tragedy comes to Alice, her sister Marianne, and their mother, they lose all they have. They must find their way in the world as paupers.

The peasant woman, Beatrice, served as wet nurse for Prince Julian, but he's had to return to the castle.  God sends little Isabel to fill the hole he left behind.  Thankfully the young lad still comes to visit. Julian and Isabel grow up as best friends, guided and shaped by Beatrice and her family.

Behind all these story lines is the long lasting war between Morinmoor and Brutanna, a short lived truce, and a prophecy of the Worthy Night who God will send to bring a more lasting peace between these two lands. 

Ms. Stanley's characters live.  Her setting is well drawn and historically consistent. 

Underlying themes include fidelity, honesty, and contentment. Her characters must come to terms with the idea of true happiness as opposed to high social standing.  She shows some characters embracing good choices and growing and thriving; and others who choose to hang on to grief, pride, and bitterness and therefore continue in unhappiness.

I also appreciate that Ms Stanley did not portray the religiosity of the medieval characters in a patronizing way.  The characters the readers come to most love and admire are the ones who show what is probably a historically accurate faith in God and respect for the Church.  This is not a primary theme, but it comes through in little ways throughout the story.

The book would make a great read aloud for a wide number of ages and would appeal to both boys and girls.  For independent reading, I think an advanced third grader could easily read it.  I think it would appeal to girls more than boys for independent reading.  Because of the medieval setting, some words and topics might need explanation.