Tasmin and William live in a country where marriages are arranged by magic: at birth, a spell is cast to see if the child’s most suitable mate has been born yet. If they have, the parents make contact. If not, the spell is repeated yearly. After seven years, William’s future wife has been born – unfortunately, he lives in the nearly-unmagical south, and she lives in the magical north.
Despite the fact that neither of their families are happy with the match (the author has a certain amount of fun with the fact that the north and south of the country – which were once divided by war – each believe almost identical evil things of each other) Tasmin and William exchange letters throughout their youth. We get to read the letters throughout the story, so you do have to get used to a bit of back-and-forthing in time, but it’s a good touch which helps us to get to know the two main characters. William is a merchant sea captain in his family’s business; Tasmin is a herb-witch with a possible high-status future in front of her at the university – but only if she manages to get out of the betrothal to William.
Then William gives up his position in the family business and buys a shop intending to sell chocolate. Swiftly after that – within the first week of the shop opening – he is accused of the murder-by-chocolate of the local bishop. When Tasmin’s family hear about this, they are thrilled – of course this is a reason to repudiate the betrothal. Tasmin, however, immediately packs her bags and leaves for the south to support William and try to find out who the real killer is.
There are many ways that this scenario could have been written; as it is, in many ways this is more of a love story than anything else. There are many issues that the author touches upon: arranged marriage (the advantages and disadvantages of), the problem of being married to someone you hardly know (even if you do know that s/he is your best match), and the problems of infertility in a society that values the ability to pass on property ‘down the line’. There is deceit, and the question of what is honourable conduct. However, I never really doubted that Tasmin and William would win through in the end. This is not a book that puts you through the emotional wringer. Nor is it particularly deep. But it’s a pleasant read and the author has constructed an original setting. I enjoyed it, and I’ve now read it more than once. I’ll almost certainly read it again.