by Karen Ranney, historical (2006)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-075743-4
Karen Ranney's An Unlikely Governess is more like a Gothic story than a typical historical romance, with the exception of the fact that we also have the hero's point of view here unlike a typical Gothic story. While Ms Ranney has an interesting story here, the heroine feels like a very different person from point to point in this story. The hero remains in the background unless when he wants to play with our heroine, and there are actually parts in this book where chapters can pass without the hero showing up to play. As a result, the romance component of this story doesn't exactly has me at the edge of my seat cheering the couple on.
Beatrice Sinclair starts off as a genuine damsel-in-distress. With her parents and most of her friends in her village wiped out by cholera, she turned down a marriage proposal from a preacher (a woman has pride, doncha know - it's better to die proud and virtuous than to live a life without true love!), and now she is really going to starve to death come winter unless she gets a job fast. She eventually finds herself in Castle Crannoch where she ends up being the governess to the seven-year old Duke of Brechin. There is also the Duke's sinister wheelchair-bound guardian Cameron Gordon, a man who clearly wants Castle Crannoch and everything it comes with for himself, and Devlen, Cameron's son that awakens all kinds of improper sexual desires in Beatrice. Someone is trying to kill the Duke, however, and Beatrice will soon find herself in treacherous waters indeed.
Set in the Castle, this story is appropriately sinister. The author never lets her readers forget about the sinister largeness of the Castle where from every shadowy corner to the woods outside the Castle all seem to hide all kinds of threats and secrets. There are some secondary characters that aren't who they are at first glance which add to the intrigue. While the story moves slowly, I don't really notice the pace because I'm too engrossed with the story. There's a good story in here, although I'm not sure whether this story is as romantic as a romance reader may expect it to be.
As I've mentioned earlier, Devlen isn't a major player in this book since his role in this story is that of a seducer in the first two-thirds of this book and one of the many excuses for Beatrice to act like a total twit in the last third of the book. Devlen seems like a pretty genuine rake in the sense that he seduces Beatrice with full intentions of having only a good time and nothing more, he keeps mistresses, and he doesn't really lose his head until a little later into the story. Even so, he doesn't make much of an impression as a character on me. In fact, I have to look up this book again because I write this review because I can't even remember his name!
Beatrice, on the other hand, is an inconsistently written character. She starts off as a very desperate woman, but once she's fed and feeling warmer in the Castle, she starts turning into some all-knowing Mother Maternal Chalice of All Motherhood/Nannyhood Wisdom and Sagacity character. Ms Ranney provides some reasonable details in Beatrice's background to explain Beatrice's outlook when it comes to teaching naughty little boys how to behave, but Beatrice's quick transformation from Desperate to Know-It-All is a little too smooth and effortless for me, especially when Beatrice has never been a governess before. But that's not as bad as late in the story when Beatrice morphs into a really addled heroine who tries to be both superheroine and martyr in one swoop. Needless to say, the result isn't pretty.
I find myself more intrigued by the secondary characters, such as Robert the young Duke who is so much a boy of seven and a terrified kiddie out of a M Night Shyamalan movie all at once. Even Cameron and his wife have a twisted but interesting relationship that ends up being much more interesting that Beatrice's relationship with Devlen, the latter being more of sexual attraction than actual love to me. Still, the sexual awakening of Beatrice can get really steamy at times so in this case the relationship between Devlen and Beatrice is far from boring!
In short, I really enjoy reading An Unlikely Governess, but more as a very interesting and dark story that engages me in a cerebral manner rather than a romance story that has me hooked by the heart. If you insist on reading a romance story, you may end up somewhat disappointed by the overpowering Gothic overtones in this book that doesn't allow room for much conventional romance elements. But if you are looking for a good story and any kind of story will do, this one may just fit the bill.
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