The Fairest Beauty
This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family Thriving Family, a marriage and parenting magazine.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
An elderly woman arrives at Duke Wilhelm's castle to tell him that Sophie, the young girl his son Valten was betrothed to many years ago, is still alive. Although Sophie supposedly died as a young child, the duke and Valten feel they must uncover the truth. Since Valten can't travel due to a broken leg, his younger brother, Gabe, sneaks off without his family's knowledge to rescue Sophie.
Although Sophie was born of noble lineage, she is unaware of her true identity and currently lives as an often-mistreated scullery maid in the castle of Duchess Ermengard. The Duchess is actually Sophie's stepmother, but she faked Sophie's death to torment her now estranged husband and presently enjoys causing Sophie pain and seeing her in the role of a servant.
Gabe, disguised as a simple troubadour, quickly locates Sophie and offers to help her escape, but the Duchess sees through his disguise and throws him into the castle dungeon. Worried that others will discover Sophie's lineage and fueled by her jealousy over Sophie's beauty, the Duchess demands that her huntsman Lorencz kill Sophie and bring back the girl's heart. Lorencz is unable to follow the Duchess's demands, so he leaves Sophie in the forest, brings the Duchess a heart from another creature and releases Gabe from his cell. Gabe finds Sophie where Lorencz left her in the forest, and they begin the journey to Gabe's home. While traveling, Gabe receives an arrow wound from one of the Duchess's guard's, who was aiming to hit Sophie. Walther, another guard who is loyal to Sophie, kills the first guard and joins Sophie's group. The three travel to the Cottage of the Seven, a place where they believe they will receive protection.
The seven men who live in the cottage welcome the weary trio, and Sophie is charmed by their individual characteristics (similar to those of the traditional fairy tale, such as one being sleepy and another grumpy). Walther is dispatched to Duke Wilhelm's castle, while Sophie and Gabe stay at the cottage because Gabe has developed a dangerous fever. Bartel, who has medical training, treats Gabe's wound. As Gabe regains his strength, it becomes increasingly difficult for Sophie and him to deny their feelings for one another. After they each confess their love, their romance is apparent to the others in the cottage as well. Bartel is particularly displeased by this; he knows Sophie is betrothed to Valten and learns that Gabe is engaged to a young woman named Brittola. After urging Gabe to pray about the matter, Bartel also reveals that Sophie's father, Duke Baldewin, is alive and living in a nearby monastery. Gabe is reluctant to share this news with Sophie without verifying it himself, and he sets out for the monastery as soon as he is able to travel.
In his absence, Sophie receives a visit from an elderly woman who offers her an apple. Sophie is suspicious of the woman, who quickly reveals herself as Duchess Ermengard. After a physical struggle, the Duchess stabs Sophie in the chest and runs away. While attempting to cross a river, the Duchess drowns because she refuses the help of the seven who attempt to pull her ashore. Upon returning to the cottage, the men are relieved to discover Sophie's wound is not fatal.
At the monastery, Gabe finds Duke Baldewin and shares the shocking news of Sophie's existence and rescue. The two men travel back to the cottage only to discover Duke Wilhelm and Valten have already taken Sophie home with them. Sophie is miserable. She is surrounded by people who assume she will remain Valten's betrothed. When Gabe arrives at the castle, he shares his plan to break both betrothals. After an emotional reunion with his daughter, Duke Baldewin expresses his support for the union, and Gabe's family agrees as well. A few weeks later, the couple marry on the grounds of Duke Baldewin's estate.
Sophie wears a wooden cross around her neck, but it is hidden by her clothes. She regularly prays for Duchess Ermengard, as she knows she is supposed to pray for her enemies. The Duchess had the chapel on her property destroyed, but one of the servants was able to save a copy of the Book of Luke. The text is Sophie's most treasured possession, and she has memorized most of it. She reads it aloud to the other servants in secret. While on a picnic with Lorencz, Sophie insists that they pray before their meal.
Sophie tells Gabe that she won't allow herself to feel hatred for the Duchess because a priest once told her she must love her enemies. Gabe agrees that extending forgiveness to others is important but he also explains the need to forgive one's self and how the Lord understands human imperfections.
Gabe worries that he might have not only gone against his family's wishes but the Lord's when he left to rescue Sophie. He regrets not seeking the Lord's direction in prayer first, asks God to forgive him and prays that Sophie will not be hurt as a result of his impulsive actions. After Gabe is injured, Sophie asks the Lord for help. Later, she asks God for wisdom regarding her growing feelings for Gabe.
Gabe asks the Lord to make it possible for him and Sophie to marry, and he also says he will follow God regardless of His answer. Gabe realizes that Sophie has many fears and trust issues as a result of her childhood, and he encourages her to give her burdens to the Lord and to allow Him to heal her.
Gabe visits a monastery where Duke Baldewin is now living as a monk. After learning of his daughter's existence, the duke spends an extensive amount of time in prayer. Gabe prays for the duke as well, and later the two men go before the Lord together to ask for wisdom regarding Sophie and Gabe's possible marriage.
Knowing that she is about to drown, the Duchess believes she can't ask God for mercy because of her many past sins. After viewing the dagger mark in Sophie's cross necklace, several of the cottage men cross themselves. Surviving the Duchess's attack gives Sophie a deeper understanding of God's love for her, as well as His ability to keep her safe. She also knows she can go to the Lord to heal the emotional wounds she has endured throughout her childhood.
A priest marries Gabe and Sophie on the grounds where the burned chapel on Duke Baldewin's property once stood.
Other Belief Systems
Duchess Ermengard is believed to practice black magic, and Sophie is aware that her stepmother makes potions and poisons. Because of their unique characteristics of the men who live in the Cottage of Seven (dwarfism, deafness, etc.), some people believe they are cursed or demon-possessed.
Duchess Ermengard slaps Sophie for defying her. She later enjoys the mental picture of a knife protruding from the girl's heart and the skin decaying from her face. After Lorencz brings Sophie's supposed heart to her, the Duchess contemplates eating it. In the cottage, Duchess Ermengard grabs Sophie by the hair and slams her head down on the edge of the table before stabbing the girl in the chest.
A physical relationship between Duchess Ermengard and Lorencz is alluded to and another maid, Darla, indicates she has been intimate with Lorencz as well. Although his motives are unclear, Lorencz pursues Sophie and kisses her against her will. Sophie and Gabe share a handful of kisses, one that is described as passionate and another that leaves Sophie short of breath. Gabe recalls how his one kiss with Brittola was insignificant compared to Sophie's.
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Alcohol: Characters consume wine, typically as a beverage with meals, throughout the book. Lorencz is described as drunk on one occasion.
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