Lisa Kleypas’s romances were some of the first I ever read upon returning to the genre after 30 years away. Derek Craven remains one of my favourite heroes and Devil In Winter, one of my favourite romances. (On the other hand, there were those Kleypas woo-woo books I’d rather forget.) Kleypas went the way of contemporary romance, I started reading a variety of new, interesting romance writers and somehow, our paths never again converged until the pandemic saw a certain publisher largesse and I scored an e-galley of Chasing Cassandra. I thought I’d encounter the usual Kleypas fare, overprotective hero, heroine in peril, intense love scenes … and, Chasing Cassandra has some of that, but they’re not what stands out. Instead, I found a deeper, funnier, more relaxed Kleypas, a narrative richer in humour and characterization and less inclined to melodrama.
Chasing Cassandra opens with a wedding and ends with domestic contentment: the opening wedding being Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent (who, I realized with delight, is son to Sebastian and Evangeline of The Devil In Winter!) and Lady Pandora’s, the eponymous Cassandra’s twin. Sundry couples from previous five books people the opening, but I didn’t feel late to the party. Among the wedding guests is self-made man, railroad magnate, engineering genius, like Mensa-level if Mensa was around in 1876, Tom Severin. He is smitten by Cassandra’s beauty, grace, and humour at first sight and she returns his feelings.
Except he doesn’t have feelings, well, no more than five of them, and love isn’t one. Cassandra, on the other hand, is a savvy feeler: she wants to love and be loved. She’s funny, engaging, beautiful, and adrift after her sister’s marriage. She’s much sought after in this her second season, but yearns for MORE. Tom wants Cassandra from the moment he sees her, but he doesn’t want to let in any of the feelings. Famous last words, he’s in love with her, the fool. But, as a man who grew up with neither succor, nor love, who fought tooth-and-nail to be powerful and wealthy, he prides himself on his reason and hasn’t a a clue how to unfreeze his heart. Cassandra, with humour, beauty, grace, intelligence, and kindness, comes too close. Like a frozen limb, the sting is sharp when the thaw sets in. So, he runs. And runs. And yet, he can’t stay away from Cassandra either, drawn to her at social events. Sadly, the narrative pace, one of the novel’s first half’s weaknesses, doesn’t have much by way of building love between Tom and Cassandra. When they do see each other, Kleypas’s scenes are marvellous: funny, touching, a delight, like an ice cream cone on a hot day.
I like this less melodramatic, deeper Kleypas. She drew me in with brilliant scene setting: a waltz, a kiss, banter … and yes, Cassandra and Tom are made for each other. Tom enters a chase-retreat pattern with Cassandra and Cassandra goes on yearning for family and love. She doesn’t brood, or hold the Tom-torch high, she goes on with life, never settling, always moving towards something. Circumstances conspire to bring them together in what Tom fools himself into thinking is a marriage-of-convenience. Can you hear the scoffing-reader-laughter? Frankly, there’s a fantastic scene of marriage negotiation and then, Tom proceeds to drop like a fly on every concession the moment he and Cassandra are in the same room, much less married.
Kleypas cleverly centres the novel on Tom’s awakening to love. Because Kleypas is doing new and interesting things, she focusses not only on Tom’s growing love for Cassandra, but my favourite character, the street urchin, Bazzle. Bazzle is a HOOT! (Really, up there with contemporary romance’s equivalent: Carly Bloom’s Henry in Big Bad Cowboy.) Bazzle’s Cockney accent, integrity, engaging, funny awakening to LOVE for Tom, for Cassandra, but never for “baffs” (he learns to tolerate them; read it and you’ll see what I mean!). Bazzle’s street urchin abandonment, reluctant taking-in by Tom, and his care, the battleground for love that Cassandra wages, are the novel’s most wonderful feature. I’m so happy to be back in new-old Kleypas territory. Miss Austen joins me in saying, we find, in Chasing Cassandra, “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Lisa Kleypas’s Chasing Cassandra is published by Avon Books. It was released in February and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley from Avon Books, via Edelweiss+.