The Marriage Bed
by Claudia Dain, historical (2001)
Leisure, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-4933-3


I wonder if Leisure knows just how embarrassing it is to read The Marriage Bed in public. The cover, the cover! And with a title like that, sheesh.

However, The Marriage Bed is an appropriate title. This story revolves around the marriage debacle of Lady Isabel of Dornei and her girly love Richard of Warefield. This is not only a complex and well-written love story where emotions come first, it is also a cautionary tale to girly heroines out there that marriage is not the end of a relationship.

For Isabel, as soon as her father cocks up his toes, she travels at full speed ahead to a monastery where our hero Richard is hiding out from the world. See, Richard has a Big Secret that makes him, uhm, wet the bedsheets almost every night and walk away from Isabel whom everyone knows has a girly crush on him.

Alas, Isabel, long betrothed to a Warefield man, is now without a bridegroom, as both of Richard's brothers are dead. It is now up to him to sacrifice his manly celibacy for Isabel, but that does not mean he will submit graciously.

Isabel, in her part, is guilt-ridden that her prayers to marry Richard comes true at the expense of two lives. In this aspect, the author really brings out the religious atmosphere that permeates the medieval times. Nice. And kudos for making Isabel's moral dilemma real without making her come off like some idiot.

But that's the least of her problem. Richard just doesn't love her. No, this is not some girly cry of dismay on Isabel's part. Richard really doesn't. She has her work carved out to win him. But soon, she will question whether she really wants to win him.

See, that's the beauty of this novel. For a moment, I am actually wondering if there will be a happy ending. Of course there will be, but the author has created such a complicated emotional tangle between Isabel and Richard that it is hard to predict what will happen next.

Isabel, especially, is an amazing heroine. She is real, in a sense that she has doubts, strengths, and weaknesses all at the same time. Her crush blossoms into a bittersweet form of love towards the end, as all her illusions about Richard are stripped away. When she loves him for his weaknesses as well as strengths, well, now that's a satisfying kind of love story to follow, because it's the most real type to me.

Richard is a more problematic character. There's a reason why "Dick" is short for "Richard", I guess. This man is just plain rude and he is whacked. Whacked because he treats his wife like dung and then gets mad when wifey seems to be turning on her charms to nicer men. Hello, dingbat, you can't be the dog in the manger, okay? It's also painful and exasperating to see him lash out at Isabel for all his own neuroses. When Isabel finally has had enough, that's when the fun starts.

Claudia Dain does suffer from the Thea Devine/Jo Beverley school of writing sometimes - the over-repetition of the characters' emotions. But since the author weaves such a tangled web of emotions between her characters, this is just a mild annoyance compared to my enjoyment of following such a draining, emotional story.

It's not a pretty one, by the way, as Dick here doesn't become Prince Charming and Gallant by the last page (some dickhead behavior still remains). Still, this is grand. When I find myself rereading and actually analyzing and dissecting the story in my mind, I just have to give this book a keeper status. So there you go.

Rating: 91


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