The Spice Merchant's Wife by Charlotte Betts
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This author is back on tip top form with this stunning historical romance. I adored The Apothecary's Daughter but was a touch disappointed by the follow up to it The Painter's Apprentice which didn't captivate me quite so much as its predecessor.
This latest book blew me away, it was just sheer escapism and so evocative of the period I felt I was there in London experiencing the horrors of the great fire of London and the subsequent rebuilding of the houses and businesses turned to ash by the conflagration. I could visualise the miles of devastation and destruction and the helpless fold trying to flee to safety amidst chaos and panic and I could smell the choking smoke drowning out all the other ripe odours of this time.
It is a purely romantic novel but so well written it’s head and shoulders above the usual restoration romance in this genre. It tells the story of Kate, the eponymous Spice merchants’ wife, recently married to Robert, son of a wealthy spice merchant with the imminent inheritance of his fathers’ business to look forward to. Although not a love match - Kate married him mainly to escape from a life of misery and drudgery with a cruel aunt, as was often the case for young women with few choices available to them. She finds herself married to a man she barely knows, however she aims to be a good wife and is looking forward to creating their first home together and is already longing for children of her own to love, when disaster strikes and fire ruins thousands of lives. As the spice warehouse goes up in smoke, together with their new home so do their plans for a well heeled future together.
Here begins a struggle to survive which tests Kates fortitude to its limit, reduced to living hand to mouth in an overcrowded slum, when Robert throws in his lot with an affluent and influential builder involved heavily in the restoration of London, Kate nevertheless instinctively mistrusts her husbands’ new boss. I don’t blame her!
When even more tragedy leaves her in an increasingly desperate situation, fleeing a would be murderer, she seeks help from her new friends the Hartes, blind perfumier Gabriel Harte and his kind but plain wife Jane. Kate soon begins to find herself having to resist her feelings towards Gabriel. Its’ hardly surprising that a book featuring a spice merchant and a perfumier relies heavily on odorific descriptions – but my nose was in overdrive all the way through!
I found this to be very descriptive without resorting to the flowery speech of the day which can make historical fiction irksome to read. I must admit I found a couple of glaring errors which though annoying weren’t enough to put me off the wonderful story – (Kate mentions a boy in church making vampire teeth from orange peel) I’m pretty darned certain vampire wasn’t a term used in the 1600s and the phrase “he was fit to be tied” didn’t ring true either.
However I loved the storytelling, the descriptions and the overall feel of the book I haven’t deducted any points for these small mistakes.
With several very emotional tragedies and sad and happy events which had me in floods of tears this is one not to be missed if you like your historical romance to transport you into someone elses shoes to experience a historical diorama with all its accompanying sights and smells – sensational.
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