The Duke's Governess Bride
Miranda Jarrett is a hit-or-miss author that I rediscover every five years or so. She’s not terribly prolific; when I checked, I’d actually read more of her books than I thought. Her forte is definitely her unique settings and thorough research. Her weakness can be characterization – which is the case with The Duke’s Governess Bride.
This book is actually the third in a series about two sisters and their governess. I was somewhat surprised to discover I’d read the first one – The Adventurous Bride – about five years ago. The sisters, Mary and Diana, have been touring Europe with their governess, Jane. Both sisters found love along the way, and Jane has been waiting in Venice for their father, Richard Farron, Duke of Aston. Jane is dreading the inevitable moment when she must tell Richard that this daughters have both married – to men who probably will not meet his exacting standards. Richard is indeed annoyed. He has a somewhat blustery personality and already finds Venice and its unique ways a little taxing. Finding out that his daughters – who he has longed to see – are married and not currently in Venice tries his patience even further.
Jane figures she will resign before Richard can fire her. But first, she goes to his room at night – in her fetching, diaphanous nightclothes – to give him some letters the girls have written to her. She believes that seeing their love will soften his heart. She’s right. Richard can see that his little girls are truly in love, and he tones down his bluster. He also finds Jane and persuades her not to leave him. He can’t quite explain his feelings (which seem to have accelerated after seeing her in that nightrail), but he’s reluctant to see her go. Jane agrees to guide him around Venice, showing him local sights and customs.
Of course, while they are sharing gondolas and Venetian culinary delights, they fall in love. Richard has always been faithful to the memory of his first wife, and never expected to have a relationship with anyone else. He isn’t exactly sure what to do about his new-found feelings, or how his peers will react if he marries his daughters’ former governess. Jane is equally surprised. She was once pledged to an officer who died, but hasn’t had romantic thoughts since then. She knows Richard is beyond her reach, but vows to take each moment as it comes. They surrender to the magic of the city and its charms.
There is – naturally – danger lurking. Jane has also caught the eye of Signor di Rossi, a wealthy man who has been tutoring Jane on Venetian art and customs. Signor di Rossi is actually a villain of the stereotypical, obvious, moustache-twirling variety. He has a taste for uptight virgins, and he knows that Jane’s maidenhead is his. His! Just when happiness for Jane and Riahcard appears to be in sight, Jane is kidnapped and threatened. This aspect of the book is silly, unbelievable, and just plain over the top.
With the exception of the setting, the rest of the book is, unfortunately, quite average. Jane is sort of interesting. She’s devoted to her former charges, loves exploring the culture of the city around her, and has a clear passion for learning. Richard is considerably less interesting. He’s got wealth and an attractive physique going for him, but is otherwise a bit boring. I couldn’t quite see the attraction there, and couldn’t help wondering whether Jane might be happier with someone who could keep up with her intellectually.
The setting is charming, as virtually all Jarrett’s settings are. Whether it’s Colonial America or 18th Century France or Italy, she gets it right and is unafraid to stray off the beaten romance path. Her books are very nearly worth reading for the settings alone, but they’re so much better when the characters are as interesting as their environment. Sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren’t. It’s the latter here. If you’d like to try a better Jarrett effort, I’d recommend Mary’s story, The Adventurous Bride.