The Spice King (Hope and Glory)

Written by Elizabeth Camden
Review by K. M. Sandrick

Annabelle Larkin, recent graduate of Kansas State Agricultural College, is trying to turn her temporary position as botanical specialist at the Smithsonian Institution into a permanent one. She consequently accepts a heretofore-impossible task: accessing the private plant collection and its extremely rare vanilla orchid, which belong to the head of a global spice empire, Gray Delacroix. With ingenuity—and a touch of subterfuge—she not only meets but charms the notoriously reclusive spice merchant. Their flowering relationship soon breaks down, however, when Gray is suspected of supporting Cuban revolutionaries and Annabelle is pressed into finding evidence.

Set in 1900, The Spice King has its roots in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s efforts to diversify the nation’s food supply with vegetables and fruits from exotic locales and protect the population from the dangers of adulterated canned foodstuffs. The novel is nevertheless a largely romantic tale that entices, then creates and overcomes roadblocks.

The writing is crisp and breezy, characters are attractive, and dialogue is sprightly. The emotional trajectory is ignored, however. Breaching Delacroix’s reclusive defenses is far too easy for Annabelle in the first place. His expectedly deep feelings of betrayal upon finding her rifling through his private papers are glossed over.

Winner of RITA and Christy awards, Camden knows how to cultivate the reader’s interest. But The Spice King prunes away too much emotional authenticity to blossom.