Have you ever wondered what would happen if you crossed a regency-set historical with Jane Eyre? You haven’t? Neither had I until I started White Mist, which turns out to be just such a mix. It’s an unexpected combination, but it works.
In this case, Jane’s role is filled by Lady Eleanor Wycliffe, who appears on the Scottish Isle of Trelay to offer her services as governess to Gabriel MacFeagh, Viscount of Dunevin (who is of course Mr. Rochester). His wife disappeared under mysterious circumstances and his young daughter, Juliana, has remained mute since the loss of her mother. They’ve had difficulty keeping a governess because of the strange happenings on the isle, and Gabriel’s rumored role in them.
Eleanor is running away from her own problems and winds up penniless in the small village nearest Trelay. When she spots an advertisement for a governess, Eleanor jumps at the chance. The position will solve two problems at once. It will provide her with a means to support herself until she decides what to do with her life and keep her out of reach of her family while she does so. To that end, she tells Gabriel and everyone else on the island that her name is Nell Harte. Although Gabriel doesn’t really believe her story about her background, he’s desperate. Nell becomes Juliana’s governess.
Nell’s occupation is not the only similarity to the Bronte novel. Gabriel is a man tortured by his own past, much as Rochester was. He’s not directly responsible for his wife’s disappearance but blames himself because he knows that she would still be safe if he had never brought her to his island. Nell quickly realizes there are strange goings-on in the house. And though it’s obvious Gabriel loves his daughter, he holds himself back from her. Nell is determined to help the little girl deal with her grief and figure out what is tormenting both of them.
But let’s not forget the Regency aspects. The people on the Isle of Trelay just aren’t as grim as their Bronte counterparts. Gabriel is far more willing to let go of his brooding then Rochester ever could be. When you read Jane Eyre, you know that Rochester (much as we may love him) will be a moody man for all of his life, even after he gets the girl. Not so in White Mist. Though Gabriel worries about Nell becoming a part of his life, he’s soon actively participating in his own rescue. Put simply, he’s just not so tortured. Add to that a heroine who isn’t about to let Gabriel retreat, and the lighter tone starts to show.
The setting also shows this mix. The book moves from the isolated Isle, where Gabriel has done his best brooding, to London, site of almost every Regency convention known to romance readers. Luckily, Jaclyn Reding doesn’t go overboard with the lighter elements. Gabriel doesn’t buy a wardrobe for Nell and they never attend a ball. Instead, Reding uses this as an opportunity to bring outsiders into the story. People who aren’t aware of Gabriel’s bleak history and who allow Nell and Gabriel to exist as something other than the troubled couple from Trelay. When they return to the Scottish isle, they have been fortified by those contacts.
The elements are mixed successfully and the characters are likable. The weakness of the book is the plot points that arise out of the hero’s and heroines’ back stories. The explanation for Gabriel’s behavior has become a cliché in historical romances. Explaining further would constitute a spoiler, but you’ll know it when you see it. And the reasons for Nell’s running off, while more original, don’t really ring true. Add to that the fact that before she arrives at Trelay, Nell covers a good part of Scotland on her own without any difficulties and you’ll find a bit of a pattern. The love story makes sense, but the supporting bits need a little more work. Ultimately, the ones who will enjoy this book most will be those who’ve read the earlier books in this series. Since Nell was a minor character in an earlier book, her back story might make more sense to those who are already acquainted with her. But even if you haven’t read Ms. Reding’s other books, this one is well worth a look. If you’ve ever been curious about what would happen to Jane Eyre if she was transformed into a Jane Austen character, you should pick this one up.