Our setting is somewhere Europeish, sometime Middle Ages-ish and our narrator Elise is not in a good position. Her beloved mother, and almost all of her siblings were killed when "the pox" ravaged her family. Her distant, unfeeling father thinks she's useless except to marry her off and to get her out of the house. She's only like 13, so she doesn't want that. She sneaks out of their falling down cottage and makes her way to a somewhat nearby town to find her aunt. She hasn't actually met her mom's sister but she's hoping that she will be able to help her find work in the castle, like her mother had long ago. Her aunt keeps her safe and clothed while she adjusts to life in a town before helping her find work in the castle.
Being in the castle is unlike anything Elise ever imagined. She keeps her aunt's warnings always in the front of her mind, that there might be men who say they love her and want to marry her, but then cast her aside once they were done with her. (This is exactly what happened to her mother.) She is discreet, modest and works diligently, kind of revelling in the fact that she is working for her own money and not subject to the whims of her father or if the crops had failed that year. She quickly moves up the ranks of the help until she is actually handmaid to the queen.
It's not all rainbows and butterflies. Though Elise loves the Queen, she knows that she is sad and burdened with the fact that she hasn't gotten pregnant and Elisa can't help. There's pervy knights who are handsy. There is Maleficent, a royal family member who doesn't like being told what to do and who has a strange effect on the people around her. And then there's a war. And sickness. But no dragons. So there's that.
Here's one thing that drove me a little nuts. At the end of every.single.chapter there would be a sentence like "Would I have made the same decision if I knew what was to come?" or "I had no idea what this action would mean". I get that the author was trying to create some suspense and foreboding but oh my gosh, every chapter?! Maybe every 3rd chapter would be okay? Gracious. It's a dumb little thing but it was annoying. Having just ranted, I did like the book. I think it was really authentic in some ways (not everyone gets a happy ending, and yeah monarchies are not ideal) and the chapters were short and moved well. A high 3 out of 5! Also I like the cover.