The Marriage Test, by Betina Krahn

>> Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Marriage Test is my first Betina Krahn in a very long time. I remember reading her 1991 book Behind Closed Doors shortly after it was released, and I think I liked it quite a bit, because though I've never reread it, it's still in my shelves.

Griffin de Grandaise will do anything to make Julia of Childress his personal chef—even keep his vow to return her to the Convent of the Brides of Virtue in one year...with her virtue intact. But nothing prepares him for Julia's sumptuous meals—or for the maddening way she drives him wild with desire. To make matters worse, it's obvious Julia is determined to get him to propose a more lasting arrangement—and it will take every ounce of Griffin's willpower to resist the feisty beauty.
Despite a hero who started out very unlikeable, The Marriage Test ended up being a pleasant read. Most of it was unremarkable, and the romance didn't work very well, but the medieval food pushed it from a C to a B-.

The actual story and romance could have been better than it was. The idea was promising: a hero whose super-sensitive sense of smell was torture enough that he had to completely isolate himself from all odours, in a way locking every feeling away, meeting a woman who seduced him with her wonderful cooking, tempting him to open himself up to other feelings as well.

However, the romance simply didn't work for me. I'm not sure I know how to explain it, but in a romance, if I don't feel the love between the main characters, the romance doesn't engage me. Griffin and Julia were a bit like characters in a fairy tale, not a romance author's take on a fairy tale theme, but the actual fairy tales I used to read as a child. The reader is told a certain character is in love with the other, but it's not something one can intuitively tell from the character itself. I guess it might be a showing vs. telling thing, here.

The characters themselves were ultimately likeable. Julia was a nice mix of common sense and romanticism, and Griffin was all right. I must add, though, that though I warmed up to him in the end, I really, really disliked Griffin in the first few chapters, finding him particularly stupid and dim-witted. He pays a fortune for a cook, after tasting what she can do, and then refuses to allow her to buy the ingredients necessary for her to cook. He obviously knows nothing about cooking and takes it upon himself to tell her what to do. Imbecile. And he's so ANGRY! Blows up for the slightest thing, is always in a bad mood. Furthermore, I never got why he'd do certain things, like when he'd refuse for days to admit that he loved Julia's food. I guess this was supposed to be a funny, funny thing, but it was just stupid, to me. Luckily, both he and the humour in the story improved.

So, why did I find reading the book a nice experience, after all? Well, mostly because I very much enjoyed everything that was *around* the hero and heroine. I liked the secondary characters, who were all pretty cute (in a good way). The setting was pretty original (medieval France doesn't show up much in romance novels), and this wasn't about the dark, violent side of the period. Much of the action takes place in Griffin's estate, all surrounded by vineyards, and the times are mostly peaceful. We get the bright colours of the medieval period and none of the grit and blood and gore.

And then there's the cooking. In a word: yum!! It sounds delicious, really. I'm not much for meat myself, but I think I'd be hard-pressed to resist if some of these dishes were placed before me. And the way Krahn describes them made me very, very hungry. It all made for a pleasant couple of hours of reading.

As a final note: apparently, this one is the third book in a series, but it stands alone perfectly well. I haven't read the others and I never felt lost.


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