In Ruby M. Holder’s historical romance novel, set in late 19th-century Cologne, carpenter Nicklaus finds love with Maria, and her life is turned around by their chance encounter.
Nicklaus is an attractive young man—a good-humored carpenter undertaking a traditional apprenticeship journey. He has committed to traveling for two years and a day before taking a final test to become a master craftsman. Remaining chaste is an important part of his commitment.
When he meets and falls in love with Maria, his feelings come to the fore. Maria, however, has been traumatized by her domineering father, and has run away from her parents to escape an arranged marriage. Will she learn to trust Nicklaus, and will their relationship be a barrier to Nicklaus’ ambitions?
The novel begins slowly with Nicklaus riding around on a velocipede, admiring the grand buildings of Cologne. Drama only really develops in the story’s last third when Maria is assaulted at a carnival and Nicklaus’s plan to become a master craftsman are jeopardized after he’s accused of breaking the journeyman rules.
Clear headings indicate when the author moves between Nicklaus and Maria’s viewpoints, but the writing doesn’t vary, and at times it’s hard to know whose side of the story is the focus. Both characters’ internal thoughts are reported in italicized passages, a heavy-handed way of conveying the characters’ emotions
Another issue is that Maria is prone to hyperbole, and without a full understanding of her past, she’s hard to sympathize with. Secondary characters are undeveloped, and hints at subplots—for example, Maria’s friend Marta’s lingering looks at Nicklaus—never come to fruition. Stilted dialogue and an over-use of German words interrupt the novel’s flow.
Overall, the author doesn’t give these two potentially interesting characters sufficient conflict or challenges to engage readers, and the central issue of Maria’s traumatic past remains unclear. The novel ends unsatisfyingly, with this key issue to be addressed in a sequel.
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