Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Review: The Chocolate Maker's Wife by Karen Brooks

Can you imagine a world without chocolate? Or a world where chocolate was brand new and extremely expensive, a luxury? A world where you couldn't just go to the pantry for a chocolate bar or some hot cocoa? Restoration London was such a place. Chocolate was just being introduced as major historical events swept through the capital and political intrigue and persecution were rife. Karen Brooks has set her latest novel, The Chocolate Maker's Wife, smack dab in the middle of all this foment, stirred in some family drama, secrets, and scandal, and poured out a complex and swirling historical fiction.

Rosamunde is the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman. She was raised in her late father's household until the death of her grandmother when Rosamunde was eight at which time she went to live with her mother, stepfather, and step-brothers in the family's tavern and inn.  Blossoming into a beautiful girl, she is abused by her stepfather and step-brothers and mostly ignored by her mother. She is rescued from this terrible existence when she is run down by Sir Everard Blithman, who is persuaded to marry the filthy, smelly young woman. Roasmunde doesn't fully understand why her new husband, after a closer look at her, agrees to pay her parents for her and beyond that to actually marry her. Even once she understands that she greatly resembles his much beloved, late daughter, she doesn't fully comprehend his intentions, nor will she for many years but she is determined to be an asset to the Blithman name, loyal and obedient. Sir Everard acquaints her with the sad history of his family and all of the losses he's suffered, laying several of those losses at the feet of Matthew Lovelace, his former son-in-law. When Everard marries Rosmaunde, he is in the midst of creating a chocolate house, akin to a coffee house, complete with a Spaniard who knows how to brew the most delectable chocolate drink and Everard intends to install Rosamunde in the chocolate house to pour chocolate, increase their profits, and to enact an exquisite piece of revenge. The chocolate house, his beautiful young wife, doppelganger of his daughter, his former son-in-law's appearance, and the secrets and lies underneath everything are just the starting point for this sweeping historical novel.

Brooks has clearly done an immense amount of research into the time period, the plague, the Great Fire of London, and the preparation of chocolate. The details she includes are fascinating and impressive. Real life historical figures stroll through the pages of the novel with Samuel Pepys even becoming one of the major characters. She has captured the sense of chocolate houses as gathering places for the dissemination of news and gossip, for aboveboard and under the table planning, and for being one of the beating hearts of an area. Her evocation of place is completely on target. As for characters, Rosamunde has a few too many modern sensibilities to be entirely believable. She is also painted as an absolute paragon of strong and capable womanhood, smart, beautiful, and caring. She cares about the personhood of slaves, she is religiously tolerant, she sees the terrible plight of the poor and hires them in order to help them, she ignores society's views of women and is determined to chart her own course. She has been sorely used in her life but she is forgiving and gentle and kind. In opposition to Rosamunde, who is frequently described for her beautiful smile and her contagious laugh or as a ray of sunshine, the baddies here are completely evil with not one redeeming or pitiable quality at all. Instead they are brutish and horrifying or they are nefarious and scheming. And in fact, there is a strand of good versus evil running through the book but there seem to be no shades of gray. This is a story of the power and danger of words and literacy, of created family, and of the sordidness of the world and the triumph of love (and chocolate). There is a very strong romantic element here and the story is very dramatic and action filled. It is a long novel, spanning only five years but a five years that changed London as quickly and irrevocably as any time period before or since.

For more information about Karen Brooks and the book, check our her author website, like her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, look at the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and publisher William Morrow for inspiring me to pull the book off my shelf to read and review.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know much about this time period, so for that reason alone I'm interested in this one! Thank you for being on this tour. Sara @ TLC Book Tours


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