This was a solid read, neither wildly original nor particularly deep, but enjoyable, although spoilt for me by a somewhat soggy ending. I liked the heroine very much, but the hero was a little too typical of the era for my taste – forceful and domineering, with a mushy centre that he refuses to put on display (except with the children, of course). I would have liked him to have melted into a puddle of despairing love at the heroine’s feet, but I daresay that’s my modern sensibilities showing through.
Here’s the premise: in Somerset, Aurelie Carollan needs to get through another three months before she comes into her inheritance and is free of her scheming guardian, whose efforts to sell her in marriage (literally!) before her majority are becoming ever more flagrant. Desperate to escape, she advertises for a post as a governess. Meanwhile in London, Jason, Viscount Tarrant, is increasingly irked by his family’s attempts to get him to fall in with an arranged marriage. The girl is beautiful and amiable, but Jason won’t be forced, so when he sees a well-written advertisement for a governess, he decides that she will be just the ticket – to play his betrothed and head off the arranged match at the pass.
So far, so very predictable, and frankly the plot runs on rails from this point. The deliberately dowdy heroine (to deter the unwanted suitors) is miraculously transformed by some nice gowns, a decent hairdo and leaving off the spectacles, into a beauty. She effortlessly wins over the curmudgeonly relations and is a success in London (even charming – quite inadvertently — one of the patronesses of Almacks). Under her influence, the grouchy hero starts to soften as he falls in love.
There’s nothing actually wrong with predictability in a plot, but where this one goes off the rails into stupid territory is via the Great Misunderstanding. Yes, that old chestnut. I don’t mind a little familiarity here and there, but that’s a step too far. Aurelie huffs off into the sunset, leaving Jason in the lurch and he, idiot that he is, doesn’t go after her. Because of pride or something (hard to tell, because I was pretty irate by this time). And so there’s a long interlude where they’re both pretty miserable, the reader is pretty miserable too because the HEA is right there on the horizon, but we’re still mired in the Slough of Despond and frankly I just wanted to bang their heads together.
So why have I given this four stars instead of simply throwing it against the wall? Because apart from the Great Misunderstanding and the Slough of Despond this was actually a perfectly good read. It also gets bonus points for using actual Latin and Gaelic, and for wrapping the story round a very cute Irish folk story, which lifts the whole thing well above the predictable. A well-written and enjoyable story, very rooted in its era but none the worse for that.