Medieval Mania: A Bed of Spices by Barbara Samuel

Way back in September/October, before the World Series of Romance, I was immersed in a period-specific historical binge and never got around to reviewing any of them. To remedy that appalling lapse in blogging etiquette….

Let the Medieval Mania begin!

Medieval Mania

We’ll embark upon our odyssey through the Middle Ages with the book I’m using as The Gold Standard for medieval romances. No, I haven’t read Roberta Gellis yet; I have about 17 of hers in my TBR and once I start one, I’ll have to read them all.

ANYWAY. This book was one of my first Kindle impulse purchases, and I’m pretty sure it was my gateway drug to the evil realm of Romancelandia. (The “mania” in the theme wasn’t chosen on a whim, trust me.)

A Bed of Spices by Barbara Samuel

  • Title: A Bed of Spices
  • Author: Barbara Samuel
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Harper Monogram, September 1993; self-published, October 2010
  • Source: Amazon, 99¢ promo ($2.99 ebook, free through Kindle Lending)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • Trope(s): Star-Crossed Lovers, Angst, Reunited
  • Quick blurb: Nobleman’s daughter and Jewish student fight for love in medieval Germany
  • Quick review: Practically perfect in every way.
  • Grade: A+

He did not kiss her, but his eyes held hers as if he had cast some spell, and in his face, she saw the fever of his need. “For this, I have been waiting,” he said in a low, raw voice. “For this, I would die.”

This is one of those books that I feel I could never do justice in a review, other than to say it was BOOK TRANCE from beginning to end. And it was even better the second time when I was reading it more critically with a reviewer’s eye.

A Bed of Spices is a perfectly balanced mix of history, humor, passion, romance, angst, atmosphere, characterization and story-telling. I’m sure I left out other good stuff, but it’s all in there.

For me, this is the epitome of a Star-Crossed Lovers story — and it’s anything but typical. Instead of the usual noble/peasant or bad boy/good girl pairing, we get a couple equally matched in wealth and intelligence, held apart only the yellow star on his tunic.

Samuel brings Frederica and Solomon together unexpectedly:

He was beautiful, as beautiful as a fallen angel or a pagan god. And he stared back at her as if he could not believe she stood there, as if he knew her, as if he were as dazzled as she.

…and lets their relationship grow with some innocent flirting:

“You did not tell me where you came by your ideas,” he prompted.

“I came by mine as you did yours—by thinking.”

He grinned. “Such a strange pastime for a girl.”

…and some not-so-innocent temptation:

In the silent gray fog, they were alone. The knowledge rippled between them as they stood face-to-face, a fearsome and dangerous thing…. For a moment, he held her eyes and she felt the heated pulse of his maleness through the cold mist; sensed once again that she was not alone in her wish to be less polite and more tangled.

Our almost-happy couple fights it as best they can:

He would not stray from within the walls of Strassburg itself. Surely, if he had no glimpse of her, this lunacy would burn itself clean. For, dear God, it must….

…until they both find the courage to admit what they have is more than physical attraction:

A Bed of Spices by Barbara Samuel - original 1993 MMPB cover

Original 1993 cover
(historical accuracy?
what’s that?)

Her free hand lit in his hair. For a moment, she said nothing, only stroked his head silently as he knelt before her. At last she said quietly, “The priest brought me the Bible last night, as instruction.”

She sank down to her knees, to look at him face-to-face. “I made a confession to him that I had spent many hours thinking of a certain man in ways that were not chaste.”

Solomon lifted his fingers, seared by this admission, but she caught his hand before he could touch her. “Father Goddard said there was more to God’s word than prayers,” she said, “and he brought me the Bible to read, with a place specially marked.”

Her eyes softened. “It was,” she said with an ironic smile, “the Song of Solomon.”

“Ahhh.” He closed his eyes and leaned forward to press his forehead against hers, feeling as if he might weep. “And yet, this is impossible, Rica. We cannot love each other.”

“I know.”

For a long moment, they simply remained as they were, their fingers tangled, foreheads pressed together, all else forgotten.

Ohhhh, that forehead-to-forehead thing gets me EVERY TIME. *~*happysigh*~*

With the help of a mutual friend, they make their own vows:

She felt dizzy, as if she were standing in the center of the world and all else would slip into harmony as long as Solomon held her.

He rocked her silently, holding her almost painfully close. “It does not seem an evil thing,” he said with quiet wonder. “It seems as if I have held you thus for all of time, that I should go on doing so forever.”

But alas, we know it can’t go on forever. The author quietly lets the internal angst and conflict seep in….

“Do not speak it, Rica, I beg you.” His eyes were bleak. “There is so little joy in any life, I will take this time with you until I must go.” He smoothed a lock of hair from her face. “In our old age, we’ll remember and be glad.”

…and then it grows:

Two months ago, he’d never seen the woman who now obsessed him. All the years of discipline, all the prudence and resistance he had practiced had come to naught in the face of his longing for Rica. He was ready to storm the castle to carry her away, ready to make a fool of himself to gain a glimpse of her in the bailey. For what? The most he could hope for was a month or two of stolen afternoons, a kiss here and there, and a laugh in a glade. He could never lie with her, sleep next to her, walk in a public square. He could never sit with her over a meal and talk of the day’s work, or take her hand in old age.

…and it festers:

From the beginning, Solomon had known there was no future for them. From the beginning, he had fought against loving her. Now he found he could not bear the thought of another man touching her, when he — who loved her — had barely tasted the edges of her desire.

…until the inevitable external conflicts tear them violently apart:

There were no more tears left in her, only a wild, searing grief. Every corner of her was filled with it, an emotion black and sticky as tar. She could taste it against her tongue and smelled it thick in her nostrils. It held her, immobile, slumped against the wall in the darkness.

But then we finally get the HEA, and it’s WORTHY EVERY MINUTE of all that glorious angst.

“All is well, my love,” he whispered. “All is well.”

In summary: I think everyone should read this book because it is a very good book. And if all those excerpts didn’t convince you, I have no hope for you. I’ll just let you wander back to your pathetic alpha heroes and doormat heroines. Good luck with that.

Next up: One-Quote Reviews for a few more by Barbara Samuel (guess what? I LOVE THEM ALL)

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