Donning the Beard by E.A. Kafkalas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is one of those books I enjoyed more as it went on than I did in the beginning. The entire story happens in snippets, it jumps time fairly quickly in the beginning to highlight significant moments between the two main characters. We see the feelings develop from early childhood this way. The jumps get smaller after the main characters confess their feelings and this is when I started enjoying it more.
I actually enjoyed all of the characters a great deal, both main and supporting ones. Despite not getting to really know the supporting characters a lot, they had personality and no one character felt like another to me.
This story didn’t really focus on the romance or build-up to the relationship as much as the work they had to put in in order to just be together. I liked this, it was different than I expected, but I do admit I felt like it dragged just a bit in certain parts. Overall though I appreciated seeing the sacrifices they made and where willing to make to be together.
Full Review with Spoilers
I had a bit of a rough start with this book. The story literally starts at birth for one of the characters and from here we get snippets of time with the two of them growing up together. Madeline works as a personal maid for Gabrielle from a young age and we see their friendship develop in these snippets that jump time significantly early on in the book. We get to see Gabrielle treating Madeline more as a friend than servant, teaching her to read and write which is considered taboo for servants.
At first this was not my favorite. I would have liked to see more of the growth of the feelings between these two, though admittedly Madeline comes to understand the depth of those feelings much faster than Gabrielle, who mostly feels that she just needs Madeline close all the time, but doesn’t understand why.
When Gabrielle’s father finds that she has been educating Madeline and decides they need to be separated, this is when I start really enjoying the story. Gabrielle’s father decides it’s time to match her with a husband, who turns out to be shady and abusive even at their first meeting. Madeline defends her and as a result, decides the only way to keep her safe is to pose as a man and challenge the would-be husband for her honor.
I really liked seeing how far Madeline was willing to go, posing as a man named Alexandre to court her. Madeline recruits the help of her cousin Timothee, who also works for the family as a stable hand, to help her be convincing and to fight against the betrothed. Gabrielle falls hard for Alexandre, but is hurt and and feels betrayed when she realizes this is, in fact, Madeline. Gabrielle banish Madeline who continues to live life as a man because of the freedom it provides. Madeline fakes the death of her female identity in order to simplify things for herself.
From here on, the story ramps up. The time jumps are shorter and Gabrielle realizes the depth of her feelings for Madeline. The two agree to court in secret but hope to win over Gabrielle’s father. Rebellion of the poorer masses against the wealthy forces everyone to part ways for safety, Gabrielle and Madeline go while her father stays behind. Madeline learns of her love of theater when they join a traveling performance group heading in the same direction they are.
The rest of the story really focuses on the two of them figuring out how to be together despite Gabrielle’s father forbidding it due to Alexandre being nothing more than a stable hand and not the noble he was pretending to be. I really enjoyed seeing the hoops these two jumped through in order to be together. Keeping Madeline’s true identity secret from everyone but a small few was fun to see unfold and them faking pregnancy so that they would have to be allowed to wed was clever and interesting.
The story did drag a little bit from here for me. I felt like it started focusing a bit too much on what was happening around them and less on the romance between them. I started missing that aspect and would have liked to see a bit more of their time alone together.
I thought this story was interesting and different. It was less romance than historical fiction. There was much more focus on everything that happened after they getting together part. This was not a bad thing by any means, especially if this history aspect is more what drew you to the book.
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