The Cinderella Governess
Georgie Lee’s The Cinderella Governess is the first book in a new series from Harlequin Historical which will feature stories written by four different authors. The heroines are a group of friends who have all been pupils at Madame DuBois’ school for young ladies in Salisbury, and are about to leave there to work as governesses. As this book opens, we learn that one of them – Rachel – is to travel to the Arabian kingdom of Huria to take up a position teaching the children of the Sheikh, one – Grace – has fallen into disgrace because of an ill-judged love affair and another – Joanna Radcliff – is to be a governess to Lord and Lady Huntford’s four girls.
Given the book’s title, it was fair to assume I was going to get a story about an impoverished young woman falling in love with a handsome, well-do-do man who would sweep her off her feet in the face of all opposition; and that’s pretty much what I got. But strange as it seems to say it, even allowing for the fairy-tale overtones and the fact that this is a path that has been trod many times before, The Cinderella Governess suffers from an overload of predictability and too many contrivances. I think the Fairy Godmother must have been working overtime.
Joanna Radcliff Is a foundling, left on the school’s doorstep when she was a baby, and more or less raised by Madame DuBois. Even though she has enjoyed her time at school and made good friends there, Joanna still feels that she must have somehow been lacking to have caused her mother to have left her in the care of strangers. Now nineteen, it is time for her to leave the school to make her own way in the world, but working for the Huntfords is nothing like what she expected. The eldest girl, who is soon to make her come-out, is a spoiled, spiteful madam who seems intent on ruining herself at the first available opportunity, and the two youngest girls – twins – are a pair of hellions. Sir Rodger Huntford is an unpleasant, miserly man who cares for little beyond his own convenience and who pays his servants as little as he possibly can. His house is a mess, the servants are lazy and surly and he blames Joanna for the fact that his daughters are ill disciplined.
Major Luke Preston is the second son of the Earl of Ingham and has risen to his current rank by dint of his own hard work. He is justifiably proud of his achievements in the army, where he feels he has earned his place and reputation, so he is furious when strings are pulled in order to have him sent home. His older brother, Edward, is the heir to the earldom, but is, after ten years of marriage, childless, so it’s time to face facts and for Luke to find himself a wife to breed the necessary future heir.
He is tired of being presented with one insipid hopeful after another until, at an evening party, he strikes up a conversation with an attractive young woman and is surprised to find she is neither insipid nor dull. At first, he mistakes her for one of the Huntford girls, only to be surprised to learn that she is, in fact, their governess, who has been detailed to act as chaperone for the eldest of them for the evening.
But even though Luke is the heir to an earldom, his position is not an easy one. Thanks to the profligacy of his great-grandfather, the Ingham estate needs careful management if it is to finally become free of the debts incurred several generations earlier. The pressure on Luke is therefore twofold; not only must he start populating the nursery, he must marry money as well. Which means there is no place in his life for a lowly governess, no matter the depth of their mutual attraction or how strong a connection they feel to one another.
Ms. Lee writes the developing relationship between Joanna and Luke well, and imbues it with a strong sense of longing and of hopelessness, as both of them are well aware that their respective circumstances will not allow them to be anything more than friends. And that even their being friends is risky and could lead to Joanna’s dismissal should that friendship be discovered. The problem, though, is that for most of this first section of the novel, all Luke really wants to do is sulk and go back to the army, and Joanna is little more than a blond, doe-eyed doll-ingénue who doesn’t expect much out of life. She shows a different side of herself on the few occasions she is able to converse freely with Luke, but otherwise, she’s fairly bland. And then there’s the fact that throughout the story, she keeps telling herself that sleeping with Luke would be a Very Bad Idea – after all, look what happened to her friend, Grace – but then she does it anyway. It makes no sense.
I did, however, enjoy the relationship Ms. Lee has created between Luke and his brother, which is one of the book’s high points. They used to be close, but now, Luke is bitter about having been called home, Edward is frustrated because he is unable to do the one thing he is supposed to do – continue the family line – and they clash repeatedly, mostly because neither of them is willing to understand the other’s point of view. But there comes a point at which this starts to change, and it’s very well handled, with both brothers starting to realise that they have misjudged each other.
Probably my biggest issue with the story, though, is the giant-sized anvil that is introduced just before a quarter of the way through that finally falls on our heads in the last quarter. Even then, though, this fortuitous plot device can’t be allowed to give Luke and Joanna their happy ending, so the author throws in a contrived and rather silly road-block for no reason I can determine other than to pad out the page count.
I’ve read a few of Georgie Lee’s historical romances now, and while some of those books proved disappointing, she’s still an author I look out for, as she has the ability to make good use of historical fact to craft effective and accurate backdrops for her stories (The Captain’s Frozen Dream) and can create interesting situations and appealing characters, such as in Debt Paid in Marriage. But unfortunately, the lacklustre heroine and inconsistencies in The Cinderella Governess kept pulling me out of the story, and I’m afraid I can’t recommend it.