by Elizabeth Doyle, historical (2003)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7470-0
This book is funny. It's like a throwback to all those old romance novels of yore, where romance novels don't care whether it's raining or the Apocalypse is coming, all it matters is that the heroine remains pure and innocent. Cassie's Rose is a hoot to read - for all the wrong reasons, unfortunately.
This story tells of our framed and misunderstood 19th-century heroine Cassandra who is sentenced to twenty-years of Horrible Slavery and Indenture in Australia. She is like a toxic plague - another fellow woman has to sleep with the goalers just so that Cassie here can remain pure and free for our hero Malcolm's bee-yoo-ti-fool deflowering. Malcolm Rutherford is a doctor who was a convict himself, and he refuses to victimize our Pure and Innocent Heroine. And thus, people, love begins. Ugh. But Cassie, who is ruined even when it was, in fact, another woman who gladly Ruin Herself for our Innocent and Pure Heroine's sake, decides that she has to be his lover anyway. Ugh.
Meanwhile, the Harlot With The Heart of Gold, the one who works so hard to maintain our heroine's chastity, escapes Australia to go back to England and work with Cassie's brother to prove Cassie's innocence. Like I said - Cassie's a toxic plague - her useless Innocence and Purity force people around her to suffer just do that Cassie can have a perfect love story. Evil women cram onto the story, threatening to jettison it, evil men struggle to gain foothold too - come to think of it, everyone in this book other than those who are marked as Cassie's Beasts Of Burden (Sacrifice Your Happiness For Cassie's!) is nasty and evil in some way. Cassie, despite being Innocent and Pure, also turns into a silly woman who says and does a lot of stupid things, although there is always some poor secondary character to shoulder the consequences of Cassie's folly.
I really enjoyed the author's previous book because while it is riddled with problems, the setting - young love - and the childish characters go together perfectly. The plot and setting of Cassie's Rose require a more grown-up treatment, however, and this is where Ms Doyle fails to deliver.
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