After struggling through The Cassandra Knot by Rebecca Baldwin, I am so, so thankful for those romances that actually, well, romantic. Ouch. Published in 1979, this book is adequately Regency, the author clearly knows her time period, and the potential of the plot isn’t half bad, but like so many things in life, it is the execution of things that makes all the difference, and the timing. And it’s hard to get right, but one knows when they’ve struck gold and this story is merely a knot barely worth picking at. In essence, it is a book that should not be. At some point it should have been rewritten or even discarded entirely.
Arranged marriages can often be a good catalyst for romance, and, here, things are promising. The Duke of Woodland, Edward Talbot, is happy with his mistress, and content in life, although generally he is out of funds and really only has a title and maybe some good looks to offer a lady. He is reintroduced to a childhood friend, Cassandra Russell, or Cassie. Cassie is in dire straights, living with an oppressive family that torments her and will force her into a marriage with a horrible man. She flings herself upon Edward, begging him to marry her instead. She is rich, having a great inheritance, and she will leave him be and let him live his life the way he wants. He can even keep his mistress. Edward has compassion on her and agrees to rescue her in this manner. Little does he know, however, that Cassie has actually been in love with him for a few years now.
What follows after that is continual miscommunication and conflict between the couple that is not entertaining whatsoever. Too make matters worse, the pair rarely have “screen time” together, if you will, and little of what time they had is anything leading towards romance. A good editor should have caught this long before publication. Neither main character is very likable, and neither try to win each other’s affection except in the most superficial of ways. The two have no chemistry; indeed, Edward has more chemistry with his scheming mistress than with his wife. Not really the makings of a romantic hero.
In addition to that, a strange robbery intrigue is inserted in the latter half. And the villain ends up being the only consistent and interesting character in the story–except him being the villain is not consistent at all. I was, in fact, hoping that he would steal Cassie away from Edward at many points.
How do writers and storytellers get romance so wrong? Cookie cutter plots are perhaps to blame, but it is a lack of thinking about the relationships between men and women and especially–readers of romance being primarily women–what makes women’s hearts flutter. Edward has little character. At no point in the story does he begin to rally and use the enormous funds he now has from his wife to bring his dukedom back to greatness. He aspires to nothing. As a woman, I can’t think of anything less attractive than a man with no interests, no adventures, and no ambition. Women are built to support their men. Indeed, we often lose ourselves in supporting our men. That’s not to say women have no interests of their own–Cassie clearly has fun partying apart from her husband in the story–But she’s clearly not happy, and has no foothold on which to build a relationship with her husband. Yes, he rescued her from an awful situation, but it’s one and done. It reality, Cassie would have likely been swept off her feet by another man with ambition eventually. Her girlish love for Edward would not have withstood a driven man who knows what he wants.
The Cassandra Knot is a good lesson: A marriage in which either or both parties do not love the other is a raw deal for both of them. Convenience never makes up for the lack of love and affection. Amazingly, by the end of the story, the two are in love and now have a promising happy marriage to look forward too, but how they fell in love or why. I’m not sure. The couple has no spark. With a reworked plot and some actual character and relationship development, this would have been a much better story. If it was told first person from Cassandra’s perspective, I think it could be riveting, especially since she’s in love with her husband and he doesn’t know it. All those feelings, all that angst at being thrown into physical contact with one’s heart’s desire. That would have been something. For a far, far better story involving a husband and wife who pretend not to love each other, but desperately do, try out the French Revolution and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Now that hero is a man with drive.