The Husband Test
by Betina Krahn, historical (2001)
Bantam, $6.50, ISBN 0-553-58386-7


Eloise of Argent wants to take up vows and be a good little nun, but alas, she is the sort of woman who... let's just say her enthusiasm is surpassed only by her talent for wrecking havoc and destruction wherever she goes. I tell you, we could have strapped Eloise here with a parachute and push her off a plane into Kandahar last month, and Osama bin Laden would be toast in two weeks tops.

And of course, she just have to help. She has to poke her nose into everything. Yes, Eloise is the reason people have flyswatters.

When Peril of Whitmore rides up to the Convent of the Brides of Virtue, the abbess sees a golden God-delivered opportunity to get rid off both annoying losers at one go. Peril needs a virtuous wife ASAP. His lands are under some curse that causes them to be barren and useless. He doesn't want to believe in the curse, but his people do, and they want him to marry a virtuous bride. For that is the only way the curse can be broken, see?

The abbess decides to evoke, er, the old tradition of the husband test. This tradition goes all the way back to, well, some way back, the abbess will tell you. She will send a husband tester to Peril and this husband tester will judge Peril by his character and virtue. Only when Peril satisfies the criteria the abbess and her penguin cohorts draw up will Peril get a custom-wrapped bride of virtue.

The abbess tells Eloise that well, Eloise is selected for this worthy, time-honored, blah blah blah post. Eloise brightens up and can't pack her bags fast enough. She also drags her poor mentor along with her. "I am going to make everybody proud!" she declares.

Heh heh heh. What a loser.

Eloise and Peril get on each other's nerves from the get go. Of course they will get married, fall in love, tick, tick, tick. Put in the usual bunch of dotty villagers and matchmaking soldiers and I wonder how the heck Peril can survive this long without his holdings being looted to the ground by the villain. Mr Villain, by the way, pops out of nowhere by two-thirds into the story to cause trouble.

First, the good stuff. There are some funny moments, I admit, especially when the dotty secondary characters are in the limelight. And Eloise becomes a more mature, human character by the second half of the story.

Now, the bad. This story can be roughly divided into two acts, the marriage between Eloise and Peril marking the transition. Act I is Eloise making Peril's life a living romp in a poison ivy bush with her inability to follow orders, restrain herself, or just stay out of trouble. Peril's singular expression here is irritation. Fun.

Act II, the most irritating of the two, is Peril making Eloise's life a romp in the poison ivy bush. This is post-marriage, where Peril completely degenerates into a boorish, moronic, Neanderthal walking buttplug. He blames Eloise for every fricking thing in the most unreasonable way, bosses her around in a "Woman, get me drink! Food! Spread legs - we *beep*!" way, and... well, acts like ten times the idiot Eloise was in Act I. Eloise chews on him very late in the story - maybe she finally finds her spine or something - but by then, the bad guy sweeps into the story, kidnaps the hero, and Eloise and gang have to save him. Can't we just leave him to rot or something?

There is not enough adult, mature behavior in this story. It swings from Erratic Eloise's Errors to Porcine Peril's Pandemonium most enthusiastically like a play about two medieval buffoons. It is pure luck that none of them burns down the keep in their immature bickering. The Husband Test is too exhausting a test of my patience.

Rating: 73


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