Captured as a slave while a child, Laura escapes and finds a new life in the home of a mountain healer and midwife. Clever and industrious, Laura learns her new profession so well that her adoptive mother, Crescia, sends her to Solerno's famed medical school so she can become a physician and bring her worldly learning back to the midwife's humble cottage.
Laura works hard to be accepted among her male peers--this is thirteenth century Italy, after all, so that's no easy task--but her medical brilliance is impossible to ignore. However, having lived a sheltered life with Crescia, Laura finds herself unprepared when she falls in love with another student, and makes a choice that changes the rest of her life.
SOLD FOR ENDLESS RUE is a retelling of the Rapunzel story, but there's no magic. In fact, SOLD treats the fairytale as though it symbolizes the everyday human experience. Let me explain, and even though you know the Rapunzel story, I'll try not to spoil Robins' retelling for you.
Told via the women (and a little by a man), SOLD is the story of women's experience with love, motherhood, profession, and heartache. Laura's family was killed by slavers, but with Crescia's help she overcomes her fears. Not that Laura is weak, she is far from it; in fact she can be rather single-minded, to her detriment. Agnesa is the young, innocent bride of a favorable union of mercer houses. She looks up to the educated medica Laura, and seeks her friendship and medical advice in conceiving a much-wanted child. Beita is Laura's young adopted daughter, willing to please, but also curious about the world around her. Her mother wants her to be accepted into the medical school, but as Beita grows to womanhood she comes to understand that her shortcomings may disappoint her mother.
With the limitations of a short book and three distinct PoV characters it was hard to get very deep into their personalities; even if what we were shown was interesting, it still felt like only an introduction. Still, I liked Laura, Agnesa, and Bieta (and token PoV male Tibalt), I only wished there were more.
The setting was well-done, and it was easy to visualize the hills above Solerno, the city itself, and the people who lived there. The dialogue, details of everyday life, and even the people themselves added to the story that made the era come alive for me. The pacing was steady, and even though it doesn't move particularly fast, I found myself quickly engrossed in the story. SOLD is an easy book to read, Robins' prose is flawless and carries the story from scene to scene with grace and beauty.
Despite the quality of the writing, the novel isn't perfect. Rapunzel is not an easy story to work around, but Robins does her best to make sense of what the fairytale could have meant underneath the drama of long hair, a maiden in the tower, a handsome prince, and an ugly witch. Some readers may be disappointed by the story's simplicity, no magic, and lack of feeling like a fairytale. Despite the inherent tragedy of Rapunzel's story, the retelling has a sweet tone, and ultimately the theme is one of love and forgiveness.
(Note: for parents of potential YA audiences there is at least one graphic sex scene and other less graphic scenes, as well as references to sex and rape, so maybe 16-17+)