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The Husband Test    by Betina Krahn order for
Husband Test
by Betina Krahn
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2001 (2001)

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* *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Since the age of twelve Sister Eloise of Argent has lived and worked behind the cloistered walls of the Brides of Virtue Convent and has gained a reputation for being stubborn, disobedient and opinionated. So eager is Eloise to learn and improve herself and all those around her, that she's become the bane of the Reverend Mother's existence. The abbess has prayed time and again for a miracle, a way to rid herself of the willful young woman, who, in the Reverend Mother's opinion, will never conform to a quiet life of duty and obedience. God eventually answers her prayers in the form of Peril, Earl of Whitmore. The dark and formidable warrior has come in search of a virtuous bride and demands the abbess produce one from the collection of maidens under her care.

So sure is the Earl of the compliance of the abbess, he's dragged along his cowering priest, Father Basset, to perform the marriage forthwith. Basset has never trusted women, least of all holy women. Of the dour abbess he warns, 'abbesses are arch women ... the worst of the lot ... clever, contriving, suspicious, treacherous, and learned in ways forbidden to women for good reason'. He's even convinced that there are spy holes in every room where the cunning abbess and her slinking minions listen.

Peril scoffs at his priest's ridiculous fears, certain he's bargained well and that by nightfall of the next day he'll be wed to a virtuous bride, thus lifting the curse that has rendered his lands barren and frightened his people. As the Reverend Mother moves her ear away from the spy hole, she realizes Peril has lied - he is not wealthy, but virtually impoverished and cannot provide the riches he's promised the Convent. She also pronounces him 'proud, powerful and difficult' - and the perfect match for Eloise of Argent - once he passes 'the husband test' of course. And who better to administer this test than the diligent and headstrong Eloise.

In the first twenty or so pages of her book, Krahn hooks readers with a combination of an engaging introduction and marvellous characters, then further ups the ante with the addition of the unique plot device of husband test. Engaging dialogue, plenty of her trademark humour and lots of action move the tale along to a satisfactory and romantic conclusion as Eloise is dispatched by the abbess to accompany Peril home, where she tenaciously investigates his suitability as a husband. Fans of medieval romance and followers of Betina Krahn's books will agree that The Husband Test is one of her most delightful concoctions.

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