Book review: A Very Unusual Governess by Sylvia Andrew (Mills & Boon [Historical], 2004)
She intrigued him…
Edward Barraclough’s happy bachelor existence is thrown into a spin when he is forced to look after his two orphaned nieces. Employing the right governess is vital. Miss Petrie has the girls’ support, although he has reservations. Unassuming and a little dowdy she may appear, but he suspets she’s neither so humble nor respectful underneath!
Independently wealthy Lady Octavia Petrie is on the verge of confessing that Edward’s mistaken her for someone else. In a moment of sheer madness, prompted by his cynical attitude, she finds herself accepting the temporary position. From a lady to a simple Miss – what has she let herself in for?
This is the latest to be read in the stash of Mills & Boon books I’ve picked up from eBay and a second-hand shop in town (there’s a stall in Victoria Market that is mainly made up of romantic fiction – snap!). Most of the collection is from the Historical line, and having read some other lines as well, it’s definitely the one I prefer.
A Very Unusual Governess is set in England in the Regency period. While the name “Lady Octavia Petrie” has me cringing because it sounds so stereotypically romantic fiction, the story was quick to draw me in. The reasons for Octavia to become a governess is actually logical, so it doesn’t feel too Deus Ex Machina. It does feel a little like it’s a good story and all of a sudden, Feelings start happening. Of course they do, it’s a romance novel, that’s the whole point.
I like the character of Octavia, and I like Edward too, who at times is a bit Rochester-like. The two girls, Pip and Lisette, remind me a lot a couple of my nieces (… OMG, I’m an aunt! 😳 Added bonus of marrying!), so maybe that also played a part in why I liked the book. And when I say liked, I mean that in a couldn’t put the book down type way. Toward the end I was looking at the number of pages left and wondering how the author was going to wrap up all the goings-on in that short time and at the same time dreading getting closer and closer to the end of the book.
There were a few elements to the book that seemed a bit on the supernatural side. Wychford, the house that had been owned by an old lady who had a reputation for being a witch, and which the Barracloughs are now renting, is a character in its own right, and you can feel the spirit of the old lady infusing it. There’s an event that follows along the same lines as previous events in the story, and for a moment I was thinking the author had stretched credibility too far, but she saved it beautifully by giving it a perfectly rational explanation. The other bits are still unexplained, like they should be, but that very crucial one turned out to not be one of them. If she had gone with our assumption that it was caused by the ghost of the old lady, it would’ve stunk of Plot Device (what happened was way too convenient), but no.
From reading Jane Austen, I thought women weren’t allowed to inherit property in those days (hence why Mr. Collins would inherit Longbourne, and why the Dashwoods are kicked out), but maybe it works if the person who died didn’t have any men in the family tree to inherit, or something? That would be my only criticism.
It’s well-paced, charming, sweet but not overly sweet, and has lots of Page Turning Quality (PTQ as they say in the biz, allegedly). You really are transported to another time, and can see the nature around Wychford and it’s all very inspiring. A good read!
4 out of 5 sneaky old ladies.