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Most fiction genres have some elements of Romance and it may be difficult at times to decide whether a novel is a Romance or if romance is merely a sub category. If the main focus of the story is falling in love, overcoming the obstacles to the couple getting together, and ends with commitment, the book is probably a Romance. Historical Romance is one of the most popular Romance genres, featuring couples from various historic eras falling in love against a backdrop of a previous era. Regency novels have proven popular in recent years, but unfortunately many readers assume any English history based romance depicting a time prior to the previous century is a Regency. Not so.

The Medieval Romance captures that time period prior to the Regency when feudal lords and barons held great power, knights swore allegiance to them, the crusades were a dominant factor, and the church and crown vied for power. Courting Cassandry by Joyce DiPastena is a historically detailed Medieval Romance that reveals not only the scope of its time period, but reveals the power of a woman’s love and loyalty.

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COURTING CASSANDRY by Joyce DiPastena

At fourteen Cassandry was madly in love with young Antony de Reymes. Her guardian, Gerolt De Warenne, insisted they wait until she turned sixteen and he twenty-one to wed. At first marriage was all fun and romance, then Antony succumbed to extreme unwarranted jealousy and became an emotionally abusive husband. The manipulation by an old friend intensified the jealousy and mistrust for which Antony punished Cassandry, turning her into a shadow of the spirited girl she had been. When the abusive Antony passes away, Cassandry lives quietly in the manor house with her young daughter, carefully avoiding feeling or caring about anything other than her child until the day her former guardian, who is also her liege lord and a wealthy baron, comes to call.

Gerolt was only nineteen when he inherited the barony and became Cassandry’s guardian. He became greatly attached to the child-heiress, but as she grew older his feelings turned to a different kind of love. It was painful for him to grant her wish to marry Antony, but he wanted her happiness more than to achieve his own. He married a year later and suffered through a “dutiful” marriage, the loss of two infant children, his wife’s death, then the death of the daughter he adored. Left with only a sickly son, he fears dying without an heir, so when Cassandry sidesteps his marriage proposal, he suggests a betrothal between her daughter and his son in hopes they’ll produce a child before his son dies. The only problem is the two teenagers don’t want to get married.

Trouble escalates as the two teenagers try to circumvent their parents’ plans, a young woman sets her sights on marriage to Gerolt, Gerolt’s son is poisoned, someone leaves romantic tokens at Cassandry’s door, and the knight who started the problems in Cassandry’s marriage is determined to force her into marriage with him. As she and Gerolt struggle to resolve their problems, she becomes more like the girl she was before her unhappy marriage and their old closeness returns. Unhappily, even if Gerolt could convince her to marry him, it wouldn’t resolve his problem of needing an heir.

This story is populated with interesting characters. Several share the same faults; misplacing blame, failure to communicate, and naivety. Cassandry blames herself and men in general for her husband’s childish and emotionally abusive behavior. She displays the classic behavior of a defeated, abused individual. One of the knights, Samson, resents Gerolt for his wealth and for not rescuing him sooner. At seventeen Rauffe still meekly accepts his dead mother’s mandates concerning his health. Egelina is a sneaky, spoiled brat. Gerolt is much too gullible, self-sacrificing, and trusting for a man his age who has seen so much human frailty in his lifetime. Each of the other characters also display glaring shortcomings. On the other hand, each character has strengths and admirable qualities that endear him or her to the reader. Cassandry is willing to make sacrifices both for the man she loves and for her child. Combining the good and bad characteristics results in believable characters. There is also an interesting twist in that several characters show symptoms of forms of mental illness recognized today, but not during the medieval period when the only mental illness known was “madness.” A subtle thread of awareness that one must be true to one’s self to achieve happiness also runs through the story.

The background and setting are realistic, revealing the lack of amenities, the almost non-existent rights of women and the average person, the feudal government, and the power of the church. The plot is fairly predictable as is the case in most romance novels, but the journey is fascinating.

This novel is part of DiPastena’s Hearts in Autumn series which refers not to the time of year, but to a time in her main characters’ lives. Cassandry, like the other leading ladies in this series is around forty. Though forty isn’t considered anywhere near old today, in medieval times life spans were much shorter and a woman was considered to be in the “autumn” of her life between forty and fifty and certainly beyond being capable of providing an heir.

Joyce DiPastena has had a lifelong love affair with medieval history. Her degree in history from the University of Arizona was earned while specializing in the Middle Ages. She grew up in a small Arizona mining town and now makes her home in Mesa, Arizona. She has won several awards for her medieval romances.

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COURTING CASSANDRY by Joyce DiPastena, published by Sable Tyger Books, 406 pages, soft cover $12.95. Also available for e-Readers.