The cover of Loyalty’s Web designates it as a historical romance novel. I expected the emphasis to be on romance with some soft-core sop to the period—maybe a reference to a tapestry here or a roasting spit there. I didn’t expect to be immersed in a living, breathing medieval world. Joyce DiPastena has done a masterful job of setting time and place, and she is at her best when motivating her characters through the historical exigencies of the era. Set in the time of Henry II when Richard is gathering support against his father, life is tenuous because friends and allies can suddenly turn into liabilities with the swiftly shifting political tides. Hence the title, Loyalty’s Web. One’s loyalties can certainly land one in a lot of trouble.
Helene de Merval first meets the Earl of Gunthar as he arrives to be betrothed to her sister, Clothilde. It is a marriage of political convenience, a tool to cement de Merval’s allegiance to Henry II, and Helene feels the unfairness of it particularly, because it was the Earl of Gunthar who laid siege to her castle home the year before and utterly defeated her father in battle.
When Helene’s old childhood friend tries to kill the Earl at the betrothal feast, not only is de Merval’s loyalty called into question, but it appears there may be an uprising afoot. As the plot unravels, with twists and surprises to the very end, Helene and the Earl of Gunthar find themselves falling in love with one another. However, loyalty is a sticky web there, too, as the king has commanded the Earl to marry Clothilde, and to disobey would be treason.
A good prep for reading this novel, if you’re not up on the history of that period, is to watch two movies: The Lion in Winter and Becket. Peter O’Toole plays Henry II in both of them, and it will set you up for the issues and flavor of the time.
Loyalty’s Web is an excellent first novel and I was delighted when it was a finalist for the Whitney Award. I look forward to Joyce DiPastena’s next.