The Chocolatier’s Wife is a delightful little novel, nicely blending fantasy, romance, and a touch of murder mystery all together into a single confection. Tamsin Bey is a herb-mage from Tarnia, a northern country that was once at war with the southern land of Berengeny, and the two lands are still prickly towards each other after five hundred years. But their peoples have one thing in common: the spells of the wise-women that reveal to every living soul who their fated spouse will be. For Tamsin, hers is William of Berengeny.
As the two grow up they come to know one another via extensive letters, while William goes to sea and Tamsin grows proficient at her herb-craft. William, though, does not want to remain a sea captain forever, and he shocks his family by wanting to come home and establish himself as, of all things, the proprietor of a chocolate shop. Before he can establish himself, however, he is framed for a murder–and it is his arrest that prompts Tamsin to come down out of the north at last, for although she has yet to meet her intended face to face, she is absolutely convinced there is no way he could have committed the crime.
The story glides back and forth between Tamsin’s efforts to ingratiate herself to William’s standoffish relations, to uncover the truth of the murder, and her and William’s own quietly blossoming feelings for each other. Tamsin and William had positively Austenesque chemistry, and the letters they exchange, shown at the beginnings of the chapters, are little works of beauty and character development all by themselves. The setting through which they moved very much added to that feel, invoking the impression of an England-like land where magic goes hand in hand with well-mannered society. Speer’s prose is lovely, and oftentimes lushly detailed; I came out of the book thoroughly satisfied, as if after the best of chocolate truffles. Five stars.
Note to folks: The Chocolatier’s Wife is a Drollerie Press novel, currently available only in electronic form, but I do highly recommend checking it out if you are willing to read an ebook! And if y’all buy enough copies, you can help Drollerie get it into print, too.