by Ellie Macdonald, historical (2013)
Avon Impulse, $3.99, ISBN 978-0-06-229221-6
Claire is the first story in Ellie Macdonald's series The Governess Club. The club thing is just a gimmick, a "Collect them all!" sticker of sorts to tell everyone that there are more to come in the series, as it's not like these ladies are secret agents bent on killing French spies with a teacup down the throat or something like that.
This story, by the way, requires considerable suspension of disbelief to get into, and even then, one has to be very patient and not want to cringe at the impending train wreck that is going to happen in the governess heroine Claire Bannister's life. The pay-off is almost worth it, so if you really want to get to that point, just take a deep breath and keep reading despite your reservations.
Jacob Knightly, the Earl of Rimmel, has some issues in his social and personal life that require him to lay low and prove to certain parties that he's not that useless SOB that makes life hell for everyone around him in his pursuit of his personal pleasures. Okay, he is just that, but, you know, he wants to make a point, whatever that point is, so he gets himself hired as a tutor to some noble family's kids. It is possible that a much-gossiped Earl manage to get himself into this position, I suppose, just like how it's always certain that a heroine experiences seventeen amazing consecutive orgasms when she loses her virginity to the hero.
Naturally, he decides to play with our governess heroine Claire. To give him credit, he wants to marry her. No, it doesn't matter that she's a governess and he's an Earl, because true love breeds pink unicorns and conquers all evil in this world. Unfortunately, he only tells her that he's an Earl after he's practically ruined her and she predictably enough will never marry him even if she will face ruination, poverty, crushed dreams, and more for the rest of her life. It's all about... principles, I guess.
Okay, this story is pretty predictable in how it unravels to its anticlimax, and in many ways, it's a standard "he lies to her, he boinks her, she gets very mad, they make up, the end" story. Still, I do think there are some promising moments in this story that suggest that the author is capable of much more, something great, if she puts her mind to it.
Claire's stock "stubborn heroine willing to ruin her life just to make a point" nonsense late the story does some considerable damage to her character, but up to that point, she's a pretty sensible heroine. Sure, she becomes a fool for love, but the way the author develops the story has me thinking that Claire's lapse of judgment is understandable. She is, after all, horny and the guy is hot, so it's understandable that she gets a bit silly about having fun with the hot guy. Their moments together have a tender undercurrent that convinces me that there may indeed be something more than just superficial interaction to their relationship.
Jacob is a self-absorbed fool for the most part, and it can be quite wince-inducing to read about how careless he can be with Claire's feelings and reputation. But that's what he is - until he meets Claire, he's exactly what it says on the box: "Selfish playboy who will break your heart, play at your own risk." He's not exactly subtle about being a fish out of water in his undercover role: there is nothing working class at all about his behavior, and Claire immediately gets suspicious about him. Of course, he's so hot, she soon loses her head, the poor dear. But I do like how the author is aware of Jacob's flaws and how she doesn't let Claire immediately forgives him just because he has past family issues. (It's the fact that she persists in being a stubborn fool, even when it's obvious that marrying him is the best option she has, that gets to me.)
The author demonstrates that she has a good grasp of what her characters are, and she puts some effort in making them work for their happy ending in a way that can result in some good emotional scenes. Much of this story is comprised of familiar tropes, but the author's treatment of her characters makes the story still feel pretty fresh. Even the children aren't too irritating, although the author can't resist making them plot devices to force the story along.
All in all, this is a pretty solid effort that manages to win me over despite some obvious flaws in the story, and that's pretty impressive, especially considering that this is a short story.
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