The Master's New Governess
Harlequin Historical has a fairly good track record and has a number of my favourite authors on its roster, so I picked up new-to-me author Eliza Redgold’s The Master’s New Governess in hopeful anticipation of another enjoyable, romantic read. But I was sadly disappointed. What I found instead was a dully plodding story, bland, barely two-dimensional characters and a romance that never got off the ground.
The position of a governess could be a very uncomfortable and insecure one, something brought home to Miss Maud Wilmot when she is dismissed from her position without a character for reasons which are merely alluded to, but which are easy to work out. Without references, she will not be able to secure another post, but as luck would have it, her sister Martha – who is recently married – had secured a situation in Cornwall prior to her marriage and has not yet written to decline it. So – with Martha’s full knowledge – Maud (pretending to be Martha) writes to Sir Dominic Jago of Pendragon Hall to accept the position as governess to his seven-year-old daughter, Rosabel, and is very soon on her way.
She has been sent a first class ticket for the last leg of her journey – even though it’s very unusual for a governess to travel in such luxury – and gets her first, unexpected glimpse of her new employer when he intervenes to resolve a dispute on the train. Maud knew Sir Dominic was a businessman, but hadn’t realised he’s the owner of the West Cornish Railway.
Arrived at the hall, Sir Dominic (the author makes a point of having Maud think that he should be addressed as Sir Firstname and not Sir Lastname – which is correct, so why hit readers over the head with it?) broaches a delicate subject before introducing Maud to her charge. The last two governesses he employed had entertained “a fantasy of certain governesses that they might marry the master of the house.” He wants to make it absolutely clear that he has no interest in remarrying and won’t tolerate any romantic notions about him on her part. Maud quickly assures him she has absolutely no interest in anything other than educating his daughter.
To be fair to Maud, she does mean it. But she doesn’t know she’s in a romance novel.
So, of course, romantic notions do eventually take root on both sides, but the pacing of the story is dreadfully slow, there’s so little chemistry between the characters I’d actually put it in negative figures, and the writing is so full of overblown sentimentality and navel-gazing that I’d have been better entertained watching grass grow. There’s no tension or forward momentum in the story at all (the only real bone of contention being that Maud is pretending to be Martha) and most of the story is devoted to Maud and Dominic busily castigating themselves for being attracted to the other, and thinking any relationship other than that of master and servant is impossible.
When they do finally kiss about two thirds of the way into the book, our hero is, of course, completely blown away and thinks it was better than any of the sex he had with his dead wife. While Maud, who –
had thought that the sensitive, previous part of her had been numbed, frozen, half-dead, unable to come alive.
(Not to belabour a point, of course.)
Starts to feel all those tingly feminine feelings rushing back.
And naturally, Maud is the sort of governess who could put Mary Poppins to shame. We’re told she’s far more popular than any previous governess had been. Dominic tells her early on that he’s worried that Rosabel has become overly timid, and he can “barely encourage her out of doors.” But hey, whaddya know? On her very first morning, Maud gets Rosabel outside to release a butterfly into the garden, and from that moment, she’s outside almost all the time, and Dominic’s fears are forgotten. Maud makes up stories about butterflies every night, they go butterfly hunting by day, Dominic buys a vivarium for the butterflies… so yes, if you’re not fascinated by butterflies (or railways), you’re not going to have a lot of fun with this book. Actually, that’s probably true even if you are fascinated by butterflies or railways.
There’s an evil Other Woman who has all the subtlety of a pantomime villain – she crops up to be nasty to Maud and taunt her with her plans to marry Dominic (she makes Blanche Ingram appear pleasant by comparison). Dominic speaks in info dumps about railways half the time and while I appreciated Maud’s dedication to the cause of female education, her speech to the evil OW near the end was preachy and only needed a flashing neon sign saying ‘important message here.’
As I said at the beginning, Harlequin has some terrific authors of historical romance in its stable who are able to write engaging stories, rounded characters and believable, well-developed romances within the shorter page-count generally allocated to the category romance – and I’m not going to let this dud put me off reading them. But I’d advise giving The Master’s New Governess a miss.