The Governess and the Sheikh
All right, riddle me this: What do you get when you cross vivid imagery, wry humor and self-awareness, a non-Regency historical setting, and a brisk pace, with a dumbo hero, even dumber heroine, wall-banging anachronisms, and enough clichés to write Hackneyed Writing for Dummies? Answer: A royal pain in the ass.
So the idea is that Lady Cassandra Armstrong is a Regency drama queen. She declaims at every opportunity, she indulges in hyperbole, and she’s a hardcore romantic. Trouble is, she has just been thrown over by her fiancé and discovers that, well, she’s more torn up by the idea that she was thrown over than by the loss of the poetic Augustus St. John Marne. But our Cassie also has a headstrong, willful side (didn’t see that coming, did you?), so she takes up her sister’s offer to become her neighbor’s daughter’s governess, and prove that she is a responsible sobersides, and not a flighty widgeon with, like, zero pedagogical experience. I wouldn’t lay odds on the results, if I were you.
But to continue. There’s a twist, of course: Cassie’s sister is actually the Princess al-Muhanna, recently married to Prince Ramiz (see prior sheikh book), and their neighbor is the Prince Jamil al-Nazarri of the kingdom of Daar-el-Abbah. And Jamil needs someone to put a lid on his ungovernable, spoiled, tantrum-riddled eight-year-old Linah.
Cue the Beatles. “All you need is love!” cries Cassandra, at this hard-hearted Prince who, curse him, refuses to buy into her pop-psycho-schlock. “What she needs is affection! I can teach you to show her love!” And that, my friends, is almost a direct quote from the book, spoken, I might add, before Cassandra has even met her charge. Presumptuous squid.
Can I say aught better of the prince, who first sees Cassandra in all her sleeping beauty and more or less molests her in front of a mirror? Or the dialogue, which nearly slew my senses with its 21st-century self-help sensibilities? Or, God help us, the setting? In cases like this, the first question that pops into my mind is Why? Why write for some fuzzily Arabic kingdom and even fuzzier Arabic prince when an English duke would do just as well? Come to that, why set your story in 1820 when damn near everything belongs in 2011?
We were heading straight into D territory when the path suddenly veered out of the woods, and lo and behold, there was light. There are small but undeniable moments of wryness that prove that somewhere, someone along the line is fully aware of the book’s ludicrous premise, and just takes it in stride. Hey, it’s a story, right? And when Ms. Kaye pulls it together and just tells the story, the dialogue gets cut to a minimum. Cassie and Jamil shut up, he stops being a jerk and she, well, let’s just say Blake Lively leaves the house. And if Jennifer Ehle doesn’t save the day, at least Anne Hathaway does a creditable imitation.
And on top of that, the glimmers of potential shine through. Yes, there are still rampant clichés hanging around, and several moments of abominable stupidity that still make me shake my head. But there are also some nice scenes, especially towards the end, that, if pushed to their full potential, would have been lyrical, beautiful, and heartfelt.
So C-range it is, angled downward because of the hell I was put through in the first half. I can’t say I’m eager to read Cassandra’s sister’s book, or anything else by Ms. Kaye, any time soon. But maybe, in a few years, we’ll talk some more.