The Chocolate Maker's Wife
Damnation has never been so sweet…
Rosamund Tomkins, the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman, spends most of her young life in drudgery at a country inn. To her, the Restoration under Charles II is but a distant threat as she works under the watchful eye of her brutal, abusive stepfather . . . until the day she is nearly run over by the coach of Sir Everard Blithman.
Sir Everard, a canny merchant, offers Rosamund an “opportunity like no other,” allowing her to escape into a very different life, becoming the linchpin that will drive the success of his fledgling business: a luxurious London chocolate house where wealthy and well-connected men come to see and be seen, to gossip and plot, while indulging in the sweet and heady drink.
Rosamund adapts and thrives in her new surroundings, quickly becoming the most talked-about woman in society, desired and respected in equal measure.
But Sir Everard’s plans for Rosamund and the chocolate house involve family secrets that span the Atlantic Ocean, and which have already brought death and dishonor to the Blithman name. Rosamund knows nothing of the mortal peril that comes with her new title, nor of the forces spinning a web of conspiracy buried in the past, until she meets a man whose return tightens their grip upon her, threatening to destroy everything she loves and damn her to a dire fate.
As she fights for her life and those she loves through the ravages of the Plague and London’s Great Fire, Rosamund’s breathtaking tale is one marked by cruelty and revenge; passion and redemption—and the sinfully sweet temptation of chocolate.
AAR’s Shannon Dyer and Lisa Fernandes both read Karen Brooks’ latest historical novel, The Chocolate Maker’s Wife and got together to discuss and share their thoughts.
Lisa: I was marginally familiar with the story of how chocolate gained popularity in England, but The Chocolate Maker’s Wife gave me a fresh perspective on the subject. Did you know how chocolate became a more widely-known confection?
Shannon: I remember studying the rise of chocolate’s popularity in one of my college history classes, but we only scratched the surface. I learned lots more from this novel.
Lisa: I had a little tiny bit of knowledge thanks to doing a pastry arts class, but this really did expand my knowledge. The novel in general surprised me by being a bit Count of Monte Cristo, a bit Canterbury Tales, and a little bit gothic mystery. Were you expecting straight historical fiction?
Shannon: Yes, and I honestly think I would have enjoyed the book a bit more had it been written in that vein. I absolutely loved the author’s 2018 book, The Locksmith’s Daughter, and I was hoping this would be similar in style if not in plot.
Lisa: That’s interesting. Do you feel like The Locksmith’s Daughter worked better because it didn’t have any extreme dramatic embellishments?
Shannon: Honestly, I think it worked better simply because the author wasn’t trying to cram so much into one book. With The Chocolate Maker’s Wife, there are so many plot elements that I found it hard to focus in on any particular thing. It was just too busy.
Lisa: Hmm, understandable, though I found the plot fascinating enough. How did you like Rosamund? I loved her determination, her liveliness, and her fearlessness.
Shannon: I adored Rosamund. She survived some horrible things, but those things didn’t turn her into a mean person. She had a genuine kindness that shone throughout the novel. You’re right about her strength and determination, too.
Lisa: She might just be one of the best historical heroines I’ve read this year, to be honest. What of Everard? The way the author peels back his layers of benevolence to reveal something truly sinister was entertaining. I don’t know, however, if seeing things through his point of view was ultimately necessary.
Shannon: Everard was difficult. He was complex for sure, but I sometimes felt the author tried too hard to make him seem sinister. Seeing things from his point of view could have worked well, but ultimately it exasperated me, mostly because I didn’t fully buy into some of his motivations.
Lisa: Now, I completely bought his motivation – he was shown to be intensely image conscious and self-obsessed right from the beginning. But the thing about his sinister behavior is that it pales in comparison to Our Surprise Antagonist, whose name I won’t reveal. And what of Matthew and Aubrey? And Jacopo and Bianca?
Shannon: I enjoyed Matthew quite a bit. He made me smile, especially when he and Rosamund finally relaxed around one another. The others were fine, but nothing stood out for me about any of them.
Lisa: Really? I liked Bianca a lot, and I found Aubrey’s pitifulness interesting. I think one of the relationships he brought onto the scene honestly could’ve served as its own story. Did you believe in Rosamund’s relationship with Matthew?
Shannon: I really did believe in it. There was a sort of tension between them that never existed between Rosamund and Everard. Obviously, there were some obstacles that threatened that relationship, but I was pretty sure they’d work things out. How did you feel about it?
Lisa: I liked it a lot – I love how they were equals and he saw her as an equal and partner in his world, as opposed to a guttersnipe who had managed to advance her way above her station and needed to be abused.
Lisa: Speaking of advancing persons, Samuel Pepys appears as a minor character in this book, which was a really curious addition that kind of took me out of the novel sometimes.
Shannon: I admit to being surprised by his appearance too, but then, this book had a lot of characters, and I’m not sure how necessary all of them were. I don’t think they added all that much to the story as a whole, and I sometimes found it difficult to keep everyone straight in my mind.
Lisa: I agree on the amount of background detail and characters – I’ll address that in a little bit. Speaking of Pepys, there’s a lot of history spanned through these pages – which is amazing because it takes place over the short span of a few years. Rosamund lives through the Restoration, the Plague, and the Great Fire, and I enjoyed the level of research applied. I really liked Brooks’ prose here – it’s spirited and warm and kept the novel running along at a crisp pace.
Shannon: This is where the author shines. Ms. Brooks brought these events to vivid life for me in a way few authors manage to do. The research was woven through the story in a way that felt so effortless, so natural, and this plus her ability to paint pictures with her words really drew me in.
Lisa: To bring us back to what you said about there being too many characters – the book’s biggest flaw is its length, isn’t it? It’s not that it’s boring, it’s that it’s overstuffed and thus hard to keep track of who should be considered important to the novel and who should not. Would you have trimmed anything?
Shannon: You know, the length was definitely problematic for me. There was so much going on for Rosamund, so much to keep track of. I think some of the secondary characters could have been eliminated without changing the story too much. I could have also done without Everard’s point of view.
Lisa: Exactly, it probably would’ve worked just fine at 350 pages versus 600. The author’s true passion for chocolate and chocolate making shone through through.
Shannon: I agree. The ways in which chocolate was made fascinated me, and I got the impression Ms. Brooks had a lot of fun writing those scenes.
Lisa: It honestly made me hungry! As for the grade, I’m going with a B+; a very fine novel with a heroine that’s never dull and easy to root for, but the length of the book bogs it down.
Shannon: I’d give it a B. There’s a lot to love here, but the book does suffer due to its excessive length and overabundance of secondary storylines.
(Note: this book contains period-typical racist abuse, master/slave rape, and incest.)