If the Slipper Fits
Any book that reminds me of Cinderella, Sherlock Holmes’ The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, and Jane Eyre can’t be all bad, right? Well, sort of. The down side is that Ms. Drake’s new series beginner is not all great either, being plagued with unevenness and the disease known as bloodii genericus. And trust me, this book has it bad.
We begin in Yorkshire, where Annabelle Quinn is slaving away as an instructor at a girls’ academy, and where everyone (except the students) hates her. Then the nasty headmistress receives notice that a noblewoman is coming to find a governess for a friend of the family, the eight-year-old Duke of Kevern. Annabelle wants to get out – badly. So she inveigles her way into an interview, where she impresses the pantalets out of Lady Milford with her spirit, gets the job, and a pair of garnet slippers in the bargain.
Arriving in Cornwall, Annabelle immediately falls in love with the setting, the duke, and the duke’s guardian, his uncle Lord Simon. Simon stays away from young Nicholas because Nicholas’ mother was supposed to marry Simon, until she toyed with his affections and ran off with his ducal older brother instead. Now Simon fixates on the estate, his war wound, the past, and Annabelle – anything but Nicholas.
Annabelle gets rid of the bad old-fashioned tutor who clearly doesn’t know anything about teaching young boys and letting them be children. Annabelle coaxes Nicholas out of his shell. Annabelle encourages Nicholas’ artistic talent. Annabelle brings Simon and Nicholas together. Bet you didn’t spot any of that coming.
Despite the clichés, up until the last third If the Slipper Fits was coasting along at a C+, and possibly even an ultra-qualified recommendation. I like that Annabelle and Simon barely even touch each other until five or six weeks have passed. The story is by no means original, but there’s a spare, simplistic quality to the prose that carried the story, despite the rampant anachronisms. And I think the author had many opportunities for extreme clichés – mental lusting, heroine perfection, ultra hero moodiness – and while all of that is present, Ms. Drake brings them down to a bearable level. She tells the story, no more and no less, with few distractions.
That is, until the end. Then Annabelle throws a random fit of missishness, Simon’s mental lusting reaches ridiculous proportions, the villain paints I’m Evil!!!! on his forehead, and the writing becomes soggy, positively mouldy, with mushiness.
What can I say? The first book in the Cinderella Sisterhood probably won’t end up against the wall. And it probably won’t make you consign the characters to purgatory. Me, I shrugged my shoulders, and in a week I’ll forget about it.