by Lynsay Sands, historical (2001)
Leisure, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-4909-0
Bliss almost recaptures the feel of this author's better books in the past. In fact, it sort of reminds me a little of The Key in that this story is also one of a couple trying to get used to life post-arranged marriage and bad odors, this time bad breath, are involved. But Bliss also operates on a really flawed premise that causes it to outwear its welcome soon enough.
King Henry is not happy. It's 1173 in England and he has enough problems in his hands without having to deal with the ongoing feud between Hethe, Lord Holden, and Helen, Lady Tiernay. Hence, he and his seneschal concoct a nifty idea - they'll marry the two bickering noble folks to each other. Then Hethe and Helen will each smooch their differences or kill each other - either solution will solve Henry's problems.
Hethe thinks that Helen is an irritating busybody shrew who keeps terrifying his minions with loud, complaining missives accusing him of nonsensical notions. Helen thinks that he is a cruel, evil tyrant who abuses young women and tortures his serfs. Upon receiving King Henry's orders, Helen and her passel of loyal, eccentric followers soon concoct plans to sabotage the wedding. Among the plans include Helen having a really bad case of bad breath, a horny dog, and bed fur full of fleas.
Readers demanding strict compliances to speech and historical accuracy best stay away from Bliss, as there are some rather contemporary phrases present in this story that makes even me, a complacent reader, scratch my head a little. But otherwise, for the most part Bliss is a hoot to follow. Helen's plans work brilliantly most of the time, with hilarious results. If the author wants to make her readers laugh, she's succeeded with me.
But when it becomes apparent that this "she sabotages his plans, he catches her at it and counters her antics" thing is the sole plot of this story, right down to the last few chapters, Bliss becomes annoying. It's like a Road Runner cartoon that just doesn't know when to stop. Likewise, the story has one large flaw: Helen thinks that Hethe is an ogre, so why on earth does she persist in irritating him like that so openly? What will stop him then from throwing her to the ground and brutalizing her silly? When I look at it this way, Helen's lust for Hethe doesn't make sense, not when she still persists in thinking him an ogre. Her crazy plans, including one that forces her to be alone with him in the privacy of their bedroom, don't make sense. She must have a death wish or something. Actually Helen and Hethe's assumptions of each other are all due to some miscommunication thing, of course, but when these accusations take into account cruelty and abuse, Helen is a fool to toy with Hethe so blatantly. Even if Hethe is not cruel or an ogre.
Hethe, on the other hand, is an appealing hero. Far more patient with Helen than any sane man would, he fast recognizes and values her intelligence (I'm using the last word so wrongly, I know). A man who is never comfortable with verbal sparring and who has lived under the guilt of causing his late wife to die in childbirth, he is a nice, noble hero who really deserves a more mature heroine.
Bliss is a funny read, if I forgo logic and just concentrate on the funnies. It is easy to do that, especially when the slapstick humor is so effective. But at the end of the day, the overall package of Bliss is still a rather silly, nonsensical story that leaves me feeling shortchanged.
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