The Chocolatier's Wife, by Cindy Lynn Speer
Really lovely fantasy-romance-mystery. When William is seven years old, the magical spell used to choose future spouses reveals that his future bride is Tasmin, a newborn baby girl from the magical and dangerous north. Despite his family's misgivings, William begins a correspondence with Tasmin, sending her letters and gifts. As they grow, William to become a sea captain of some renown and Tasmin to become an herb mage and teacher, his kindness and honesty win her heart even though they haven't yet met. So when Tasmin hears that William, now retired from the sea to open a chocolate shop, has been arrested for murder, she refuses to believe it, and sets out to rescue him. Together, William and Tasmin discover a nefarious plot to destroy William's family and, although romance is considered an irrelevant frivolity when it comes to marriage, fall in love.
Beautifully written, interesting magic, engaging and likeable characters (except for the ones you love to hate! But even they have multiple dimensions, and aren't just cardboard cutouts). The world is also interesting, a setting reminiscent of late 18th/early 19th century Europe. I always appreciate fantasy that isn't set in the standard pseudo-medieval setting. The mystery is well-plotted and kept me guessing. My only quibble is that some of the tensions between Tasmin and William, such as Tasmin's jealousy, seem contrived, as though they were put in just to keep the relationship from seeming too "perfect". It isn't necessary; the relationship between William and Tasmin is charming and quirky enough without those elements, and they don't really fit the characters and story.
The Chocolatier's Wife is sweet romance, with some sexual references but no on-screen sex.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Chocolatier's Wife, and highly recommend it for those who like romance in their fantasy, or fantasy in their romance, along with an intriguing mystery.
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