Berkley, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-19092-7
Historical Romance, 2003
Structurally, The Wife Test is written in a way that mirrors the author’s previous book, The Husband Test: we have a road trip for the first half of the book, court stuff in the second half, and enough stupid heroine antics to make me wish someone would swat all these horrible creatures to pancakes with some giant almighty fly-swatter. Seriously, watching Chloe of Guibray and her entourage of near-nuns crashing through the wilderness is like watching a bunch of children running through a Nazi concentration camp thinking it’s a new Girl Guide jamboree gathering site.
The stupidity begins early on, when our heroine Chloe persuades the elderly nun to let her, a know-it-all empty-headed loudmouth, lead the other four women from the Convent of the Brides of Virtue to England. See, the patron of the Convent, the Duke of Avalon, is unable to get his people to raise enough ransom to free him. So he decides to use his four “daughters” (which he really doesn’t have) from the Convent to ransom himself off. Chloe decides to go because she is sure that she will find her real heritage in England. Leading the bunch of brainless hens is our hair-suited hero Hugh of Sennet and his bunch of men. And the old woman who’s supposed to lead these women let Chloe secretly take over. Because she feels that it is the right thing to do. Really.
Firstly, Hugh and the Mother Superior conspire to keep Chloe and the other brainless hens from the real dangers these beautiful women will face out there in the wilderness. So we have our heroines chattering really loudly when they are among men who are, shall we say, less than chivalrous after a long hard journey abroad. Then they are attacked when they stupidly wander off by themselves. Hugh and his men save them, and these idiots repay the men by insisting that they camp right there near the spot they are attacked because the girls are too horrified to go on. These idiots wail at the most inopportune moments, acting like high-maintenance divas, and I love how Chloe especially demands to be allowed to interrogate men Hugh have captured.
The thing is, Chloe knows nothing. She doesn’t even understand why Hugh let his men wear the near-nuns’ clothes and go the other way in some attempt to distract and trap their attackers. She sneaks off to bathe – alone – when the last thing she should do is to be alone and get naked in the process. There is a chilling scene where the enemies attempt to rape the “nuns” (Hugh’s men dressed up), which drives home the fate that will befall the Idiot Brigade if Hugh isn’t around. So why is the author letting the Idiot Brigade go around acting and mouthing off like that? Does she want me to laugh at how wrong her heroines are?
Once they reach the court of King Edward, Chloe is the first to mouth off to the King, insisting on a Wife Test (read: the men having to court the women). Expected “hammy” antics ensue as the women, suddenly bestowed with at least a little knowledge of what transpires between men and women, start flirting with the men. Then, out of the blue, there is a murder plot to off poor Duke of Avalon, and oh yeah, Chloe finds her Daddy. Whatever. As for the romance, pffft. Hugh is more like some undisciplined hormonal fruitcake whose “love” for Chloe is tantamount to a testicular Chernobyl. As for Chloe, well, who knows what she is thinking. I don’t even want to try to understand.
Toxically drunk on stupidity passed off as entertainment and comedy, The Wife Test is more akin to a sensory massacre than a humorous medieval romance. I’ve read better. Way better.