I thought this was a truly lovely romantic story. So often historical romances, nowadays, are what I like to call “regency-by-rote.” No matter the author, it’s the same stale characters and plots, recycled over and over again with only the slightest variations to tell them apart. The feisty, book-loving spinster set against the alpha-male rake. You know exactly everything that is going to happen, from the first page to the last. A Bed of Spices is not one of those romances, however; it features a refreshingly different story coupled with interesting characters that have believable romantic chemistry. That’s pretty rare in romance novels – it shouldn’t be, but it is.
When I started reading A Bed of Spices, it was on the recommendation of a friend who suggested it as “something different.” Rica is the pretty, blonde daughter of the local lord, while Solomon is a young doctor-in-training. The plague hit the city where he was studying at university, and he was forced to come back to his hometown of Straussburg. He and Rica meet by accident, as he was receiving medicinal training with her father’s mistress, a healing woman of some repute who was also well-known within the city’s Jewish community. The set-up was written believably, and offered the protagonists a chance to fall in love without having to resort to back-breaking plot contrivances. I also admired how realistically the relationship was portrayed. During the 14th century, a Jewish man or woman who had sexual relations with a Catholic was committing an offense punishable by death. So, any possible happy ending between Rica and Solomon was going to come at a very high price, which – oh my god – it did. The secondary characters, also, were very well drawn, no “stock” characters here. Everyone in the story, from the leads on down, had distinct, well-developed personalities.
A last, little note: I loved Rica and Solomon together. Their personalities were full, complete, multi-faceted; they complemented each other well, and I could see why they were so drawn to each other, despite the obstacles their love faced. I enjoyed reading about their relationship and was rooting for them to make it, in the end. Something else unique about this story is that Solomon is a very gentle, kind beta hero; he is a nice, decent man, who is perfectly at ease with showing Rica his deep feelings for her. Loved that bit, as well.
All in all, a very tense and suspenseful read. The writing was pretty good, excellent for a romance novel, but where this book really shines is in its characterizations of normal, everyday people caught up in the political and social turbulence around them.