The Candlemaker's Woman

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
309 Pages
Reviewed on 05/21/2024
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Lucinda E Clarke for Readers' Favorite

Author Marj Charlier takes us back to the dying days of the Roman Empire in The Candlemaker’s Woman. Melia was sold into slavery by her own tribe as part of the deal to allow her people to move west, away from the hordes advancing from the south and east. Her life is miserable. Her owner rapes her at night and his wife Matildis abuses her verbally and physically during the day. Yet despite this, Melia becomes an expert at making candles and even invents new and special candles and votives. Her old tribe, the Suevi, allied with the Vandals and Alans, are refused entry into lands controlled by the Romans and languish on the opposite bank to Mogantiacum. Melia lives in the hope her mother will come to buy her back, and as the river freezes over, the refugees make their way across. But Melia’s troubles are only just beginning; there are more hardships in store as the fighting rages in the streets and the death toll mounts. It is a raw, very real description of life in the fifth century as people of all ethnicities struggle to survive and find a safe and peaceful place to settle.

The Candlemaker’s Woman by Marj Charlier transported me back in time to AD 405 in central Europe, and I lived in that era from the first page to the last. The characters, especially Melia, were so brilliantly drawn, the descriptions of her life, from the slave block in Mogantiacum to the villa in Gaul, were so vibrant that I was there with her every step of the way. The strongest message brought home was the migration of people from one place to another and the horrors of slavery. In today’s world, the cries against slavery never include the slavery that was practiced all over the world by the strongest tribes, cults, and rulers of the time. People saw nothing wrong in the maltreatment of their slaves, as experienced by Melia in the candlemaker’s shop. The tension built again and again, leaving me quite breathless. I could not tear myself away from this book. Yes, it is brutal, yet it is also a love story. Most of all it reminded me of the harsh way of life for all people living in that period of European history. I learned so much about life in those times, and how hard it was to survive. I loved this book and hope there might even be a sequel. If so, I will rush to get it. A very well-deserved five stars.

Jennifer Ibiam

The Suevi tribe left their settlement because of invasion from other tribes, but they needed safe passage. They gave up their children, including thirteen-year-old Melia, for this cause. The raiders sold the children into slavery, and a candlemaker from Mogantiacum bought Melia. Melia suffered so much from rape, physical abuse, and hard labor, among other things. Her master and his wife, Hermann and Matildis, were the epitome of cruelty. However, hope kept Melia alive because her mother promised to rescue her. Some years passed, and it looked like freedom was near, but events occurred that complicated her life. Will Melia ever be free? Is she resigned to a life of servitude, far away from the family she knows? Experience the action-packed story of The Candlemaker’s Woman by Marj Charlier.

The Candlemaker’s Woman is set in the 5th century of medieval Europe. Lovers of historical wars, romance, and action stories will enjoy this book. The narrative is fast-paced but the author sometimes applies a slow tempo to pile on the suspense. This novel also explores themes like loyalty, deception, love, courage, patience, and compromise. I loved the plot and development of the story as it would make anyone think about their faith. When Fritigil’s situation with the twins happened, I asked why God let bad things happen to good people. Marj Charlier wrote a movie-worthy novel. Melia was quite spirited and brave at thirteen. She also grew into a brilliant, strong, and empathetic woman. She never lost her essence. However, nothing Greta did would redeem her in my eyes. Melia’s brother, Ballomar, was the only kin worthy of her loyalty. I really enjoyed this book.

K.C. Finn

The Candlemaker's Woman is a work of fiction in the historical fiction, interpersonal drama, and suspense genres. It is best suited to mature adult readers owing to the presence of violence throughout and references to sex and abuse. Penned by author Marj Charlier, the novel recounts the harrowing tale of Melia, a young girl thrust into slavery amidst the chaos of barbarian invasions in 406 CE Gaul. Sold to an abusive candlemaker by her fleeing parents, Melia endures hardship and cruelty while mastering the art of candlemaking. Amidst her struggles, she finds love and eventually uses her skills to save her family. Yet, the lingering question remains: will she reunite with the love of her life and the father of her child?

Author Marj Charlier has crafted a deeply moving story that transports readers to a tumultuous period in history with resonant detail and atmosphere right from the start. The portrayal of Melia's resilience amidst adversity is accomplished, with nuanced touches to the dialogue and thought presentation that showcase the enduring power of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable challenges. The historical backdrop of mass migration and societal upheaval is well-researched and translates onto the page with all its complexity and intricacies, highlighting the emotional themes of displacement, resilience, and the quest for love and family. Through Melia's journey, the novel offers a poignant reflection on the enduring human experience, reminding readers of the timeless struggles faced by individuals caught in the tide of history. Overall, I would not hesitate to recommend The Candlemaker's Woman to fans of gripping historical fiction everywhere.

Christine Nguyen

The Candlemaker's Woman by Marj Charlier is a historical novel about the Germania people leaving their farms and land to escape from the violence of the Huns. The Suevi people give up their children to the Burgundians so that they can migrate across the Rhine River to seek a new beginning away from hunger and bloodshed. The children are sold at a slave auction in Gaul, the center of the Roman Empire. Melia, aged thirteen, is bought by a candlemaker. Melia must navigate her new life doing all the household chores while enduring nightly visits from the candlemaker, and his wife’s verbal abuse. She clings to the promise that her mother, Greta, will one day rescue her from slavery. Melia’s only solace is in learning the skills of the candlemaker and she begins to make unique and beautiful candles for the town.

Author Marj Charlier writes a compelling coming-of-age story with interesting characters that keep the attention of the reader. The pace flows smoothly and the story is very well written with surprising plot twists. The history of this period of the fall of the Roman Empire is fascinating. I learned so much about the various Barbarian tribes. I did not know very much about this period in history, but Charlier’s mesmerizing storytelling skills sparked my interest in wanting to learn more about the Germania tribes migrating across the lands and changing history. The Candlemaker's Woman is an absorbing read that will both entertain and educate readers.

Grant Leishman

The Candlemaker’s Woman by Marj Charlier takes us on a journey back to fifth-century Europe, as the western Roman Empire was beginning its decline and the barbarian tribes of Germanic origin were beginning their relentless assaults on Rome. Melia is just thirteen years old when her family and their Suevi tribe flee from the marauding Huns and embark on a journey to Gaul, seeking peace and freedom. To facilitate their progress, Melia’s father and his people had to make a heartbreaking decision. They had to give up their children in slavery to the Burgundians to receive a pass through the lands they needed to cross to reach Gaul. Melia was sold to a vicious, drunken candlemaker and his lazy wife. Despite the physical and sexual abuse she would receive there, she became skilled in the art of candle making and comfortable in her existence, even managing to meet and fall in love with a young brewer. All this while Melia’s mother was determined to eventually find her lost daughter and buy her back from her master.

The Candlemaker’s Woman is a harsh reminder of just how perilous and uncertain life was for the average person in a Europe torn by change and the slow decay of the ruling empire. As Rome foundered, the so-called barbarians -- Huns, Suevis, Vandals, Franks, and other tribes -- were jockeying for power, land, and position in the rapidly changing environment. For the common peasant caught in the middle, life was short, violent, and incredibly difficult. Author Marj Charlier has created a wonderful character in Melia. Her determination to survive and eventually achieve her freedom regardless of the horrific acts perpetrated on her was inspiring. That she was able to rise above the pain and suffering and maintain her positive attitude to life was wonderful. I particularly appreciated how much more difficult it was for a woman to survive in these brutal times. Not only was she considered fair game to her master, but even men from her tribe often considered women to be theirs for the taking. To be branded a whore merely because she was raped by her master was perhaps the ultimate insult. The author's corollary between the mass migrations of fifth-century Europe and current world events was insightful and thought-provoking. As she so eruditely pointed out, we all came from somewhere. This is a wonderful read, an exciting adventure, and a sweet romance all rolled into one, with a telling moral twist in the tail that makes it stand out amongst its peers. I can highly recommend this read.