The Seventh Bride is a fantasy novel by T. Kingfisher. I discovered it while reading an essay about realistic fantasy heroines, and I loved it so much I read the whole book in one night. It's that good. It's a creepy, terrifying story about a young peasant girl who finds herself caught by a rich, powerful noble, who's also a deranged sorcerer.
What makes this story fascinating is the heroine, Rhea, a 15-year-old miller's daughter. She's not particularly pretty, though she works hard at the mill and knows a great deal about flour. So it's a mystery to her why a rich nobleman, Lord Crevan, who she's never met suddenly decides he wants to marry her. In fact, Rhea's tempted to refuse him when he makes a show of asking her and her family for her hand in marriage, even though that would be unthinkable. But Rhea is ever practical, sensible, and kind, and she knows that an angry Crevan could destroy her family if she dared to tell him "no." Yet the more she discovers about the selfish, cold, cruel man she's about to marry, the more horrifying the prospect becomes. Especially when (spoilers) she discovers the shocking fates of Crevan's six other wives.
A brilliant re-telling of the "Bluebeard" fairy tale, The Seventh Bride captures the horror of the original story, but Kingfisher creates a wonderful character in Rhea. With only a hedgehog for a companion, Rhea defeats her evil captor in part by befriending his other wives and treating those around her with compassion. It's noteworthy that unlike most novels about a young woman in danger, The Seventh Bride makes it clear that Rhea and the other wives have done nothing wrong and do not deserve the punishments Crevan inflicts on them. He justifies his cruelty, even convincing one of his victims to serve him. Yet practical Rhea immediately recognizes his weak excuses, and takes comfort in the fact that she's done nothing wrong except somehow attract the attention of a maniac. Her attitude is a great antidote to the enormous amount of victim-blaming we see in our culture.
I enjoyed this novel from beginning to end, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy or dark, twisted fairy tales. While the book has a youthful heroine, Rhea has the voice of an old soul, and the violence and horror of the story make it more for adults (or at least very mature young adults). It's such a great read, I'm hoping to read more books by its author, T. Kingfisher, soon.