He managed a smile. "I know, and think it most good of you, but I cannot help feeling sorry. Our marriage was doomed to be hard in the beginning, simply because our people are so different, but now the weight of these events will make it even worse. I would not have pulled you into this mess for the world."
"Mess? And here I thought this little adventure was your wedding present to me. I am quite disappointed, William."
He rolled his eyes. "Nay, my dear, I am supposed to slay dragons for you, not deacons. But you look like you could use a rest. The guard has my personal effects. If you please, tell him you have my permission to claim them all, and among them you will find the key to the front door of the shop. My brother will bring me dinner at a quarter after four. Were you to come and meet him, I'd be quite grateful."
"I would be most honored. I shall return then. Have you any wish for aught, while I'm at your home?" There were two books on his bed; he took one and handed it through the bars. She took it: Creighton's Mysteries volume one. "Reading about the unseen world, Mister Almsley?"
"It is part of your world, is it not?"
She shook her head. "Haunted temples and people who claim to have been able to step back into time is not exactly my field."
Author: Cindy Lynn Speer
Synopsis: In Berengeny, where marriage matches are made by spell just after birth, romance is uncommon, but northern Herb Mistress Tasmin has corresponded all her life with her intended, southern sea-captain-turned-chocolatier William—and when William is accused of murder and promptly jailed, Tasmin goes straight to his aid. Unfortunately for her, southerners are suspicious of magic-friendly northerners, so Tasmin is mostly on her own as she fights to keep the chocolate shop alive and prove William's innocence.
Sheer determination, budding love, and a pack of wind sprites stand Tasmin in good stead as she deals with a strange town, William's antagonistic family, his unknown enemy, and the final obstacles to achieving his freedom and their long-awaited marriage.
Notes: The motif of the arranged (or convenience, or otherwise contractual) marriage turning into a love match crops up regularly among romance novels, but it can still be enjoyable if well done. In this novel's case, it was certainly responsible for some of the prettiest moments; Tasmin's and William's letters to each other, which preceded every chapter, were fun to read and helped develop the love story nicely.
The book is fantasy and mystery as well as romance, however. That combination has been well done by writers such as Sharon Shinn, so I was excited to see the blend of genres begin to develop in this story. The fantasy side is quite light; there are a few moments of mage activity that are neatly described, and the wind sprites were lovable and amusing, but otherwise there's little to it. The plot depended more heavily upon the mystery, which, though fairly ordinary, was readable enough.
The execution, however, hampered the story on all fronts. Speer can write a decent sentence, but her prose is uneven, and the choice to formalize the dialogue along Olde English lines, with a few pirate terms thrown in, proved awkward. Her timing was lovely on occasion, but sometimes the character interactions were baffling. I liked the romance overall, but much of the conflict failed to work for me, as did the final sweet moment.
These sorts of weaknesses seem commonplace among novels published independently (in this case, through indie house Dragonwell Publishing.) On the other hand, I've seen stories in far worse condition shipped out with pride by the Big Five, so there's that. I'm on the hunt for really good self- or indie-published fantasy—there has to be some out there—so I was happy to take this one in stride. It's not quite what I'm questing after—it needs too much polish—but it held my attention and was a pleasant afternoon read.