The Governess Game
In The Governess Game, Tessa Dare’s newest installment in her Girl Meets Duke series, Alexandra Mountbatten needs a job. This is convenient because Chase Reynaud needs a governess for his two nieces, who have driven off all acceptable candidates with their various antics. Chase is a duke’s heir, but is desperately trying to avoid both attachments and responsibility as long as he can. Alex has a financial plan for her life and has little interest in deviating from it. Well, we all know what happens, don’t we?
I’ve called this book Contemporary in Corsets to a few colleagues, and I’ve been around Romancelandia long enough to know exactly how some readers are going to react to it. Some will haaaaaate that the dialogue and characterizations aren’t appropriate for the Regency era (and they’ll be right), some will roll their eyes at the children as being contrived plot devices (they’re not far off), some will be frustrated by the anachronistic pop culture references, and some will absolutely not care and get wrapped up in the story Ms. Dare has crafted and not give a hoot or a holler about the above elements.
*Waves hand wildly* I’m over here in that last group and delighted to be here.
Thus, I want you to know that I’m writing as someone who doesn’t really care about period accuracy or reality. I care more about the characters and how real they feel as humans. Do I believe the happily ever after? Did I enjoy my time with these people? Yes and yes? Fabulous. However, I know I am in the minority of reviewers of historical romance. Y’all, I have no idea how titles really work and what the difference in fashions are between Regency and Victorian, but I do know if I trust the characters and if the dialogue makes me laugh out loud and if I feel content at the end of the read. The Governess Game ticked all these boxes for me, and more.
When we meet Chase, he’s exactly what you’d expect of a debauched rake. He’s busy building a room in his house that’s entirely for sexual pleasure – he even invents a Murphy bed and hangs a mirror in a non-traditional location. He’s charming, and you know his character arc within about seven paragraphs of meeting him. We met Alex in The Duchess Dare (book one of the series), as one of the heroine’s friends, and I remember liking her pragmatism, which extends into this book. She’s making her living as a clock setter – someone who goes to people’s homes and makes sure their clocks are on Greenwich Mean Time.
The plot kicks off when the nieces have gotten rid of the umpteenth governess Chase hired for them, and Alex shows up to tune his clock right when he’s expecting a new one. Confusion ensues, Alex initially turns down the job offer, but then returns when her clock job becomes impossible to do through a plot involving her fear of boats. The girls are immediately rude, and Chase just dumps Alex into the proverbial deep end and returns to building his Palace of Pleasure.
The next several hundred pages are full of stops and starts of intimacy – between the girls and Alex, between Alex and Chase, between Chase and the girls. All parties are afraid of something and must face those fears before the happily ever after can fully set in. In the meantime, there’s much to do with a doll who has multiple chronic illnesses, the emotional baggage of being an orphan, and some seriously delicious experiments between Alex and Chase in his pleasure room.
The orphan theme is nicely explored, and allows us insight into Alex’s character, who is the daughter of a Mestiza woman from the Philippines and an American sailor, and was raised on her father’s boats after the death of her mother. When her father’s ship was wrecked off the coast of England, she ended up an orphan on the British Isles and has been fending for herself ever since. Her resilience and calm are what ground this story from spinning entirely into out of control tropeville.
There are two key reasons this book doesn’t launch itself from something I deeply enjoyed reading into DIK territory and their names are Daisy and Rosamund. Chase’s nieces are… how do I put this… annoying? Flat? I can’t quite put my finger on the word for it, but they were certainly not fully realized characters on the same level of Alex and Chase, or even Alex’s friends. They’re both archetypes of literary orphans – the older, savvy one who refuses to let anyone get close because they’ll just leave, and the younger one who has invested all parental emotions in the older one and lets the sibling act as gatekeeper to their lives. Fortunately, they only mildly took me out of the story, and I was able to just roll my eyes, treat them as the plot devices they are, and get on with it all. I will not be surprised, however, to hear from other readers that they proved more problematic.
There were a few other niggly things that shoved this towards the ‘fluffy and forgettable’ column of books (Chase himself a few times, and a few pop culture references that felt – ugh), but it still had enough of that book magic that it just flat out worked for me and I still inhaled it in one sitting. I had a fabulous time romping around in these folks’ lives for a few hundred pages and I’m already looking forward to the next installment.
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