Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4767-4938-9
Historical Romance, 2014
It’s happy time in Kate Noble’s The Game and the Governess. Lord and Lady Widcoate are throwing a party with the Earl of Ashby as the guest of honor. For Phoebe Baker, governess to the Widcoates’ two children, this isn’t a good thing because she blames the Earl indirectly for her father’s financial ruination and hence her current employment. You see, her father was fleeced of everything he had by someone who claimed to have been employed by the Earl, and her father discovered that he had been had too late – by the time he wrote to the Earl and received a response, the money was gone. Phoebe blamed the Earl because if the Earl had tried to arrest the man for cheating the Earl, instead of letting the man go on his merry way after sacking the man to save face, the man wouldn’t have been able to target victims like Phoebe’s father. Still, she knows better than to go up against an Earl. She’d just grit her teeth and stay out of everyone’s way. The Earl’s secretary, Mr Turner, is pretty charming and nice, though.
Unfortunately for her, Edward “Ned” Granville – the Earl of Ashby – and his secretary John Turner have actually switched places for this party. The two men have a wager. You see, Ned declares that his success with women and everything else in life is due to his luck and charm, while Turner believes that it’s because of his title. Therefore, this weekend, the two men would switch places, and if Ned can still score with a woman and has her declare her affections in a way that satisfies Turner, Ned would have won the bet.
I know, this plot is pretty horrifying because we have two men of privilege wagering on a working class woman’s reputation, and even better, it ends up being a woman who already has lost everything. Things aren’t so bleak, though. The Game and the Governess is actually a redemption story of sorts – Ned’s – and perhaps the author feels that having Phoebe become his wife is some kind of karmic consolation for having gone through life the way she had. It’s actually strange, if I think about it: the moral here is that Ned, by working for a while as a middle class fellow, learns to shed much of his selfish tendencies and self-absorption, and yet, at the end of the day, the prize for the heroine having gone through life as a governess is a life of privilege, the very one that causes Ned’s personality to require fixing. I guess the moral of the day is that nice people are all that, but being wealthy and privileged is even more than all that.
Ned’s reluctant adaptation to working class life is amusing, as he learns that the very types of women who would let him do anything to them now wouldn’t want to give him any time of day. I also have to commend the author – she doesn’t blame those women for being mercenary or shallow, she instead has Ned experience a sobering moment where he wonders whether he has unknowingly taken advantage of his conquests because, as an Earl, his title may make it impossible for them to turn him down. I like this. In many ways, this story points out how easy men like Ned can take advantage of others, even without realizing it, because they have so many good things that they have no idea how privileged they are. Or in Ned’s case, he doesn’t care to know until he has to face up to the screw-ups he has done.
Like Kate Noble’s previous books, The Game and the Governess doesn’t have a balanced approach to characterization. This time around, the hero dominates the story with his character arc, and the heroine’s role is reduced to being both the catalyst for his character growth and the unknowing victim of the two men’s petty games. As a result, it’s hard for me to buy the romance, especially since she is only clued in very late into the story, with the last page just around the corner. Ned isn’t cruel here, but I suspect some readers may disagree, as Ned’s stupidity often hurt Phoebe as much as if he’d been outright cruel. I don’t know why the author keeps Phoebe being in the dark for so long, because for all of Ned’s good intentions, he ends up stringing her along all the way to the last few pages, with the bonus of hurting her one last time just before the happy ending.
Yes, Phoebe is led along all the way to the last handful of pages. I find myself wondering whether she trusts Ned enough to be happy in this marriage. She doesn’t even know him – apparently feelings of love are enough for a happily ever after here, and I’m not buying that whole. Ned is pretty dumb here, mind you. Even knowing Phoebe’s past, he still wants to go ahead and marry her without telling her first who he really is. What do you think will happen when she finds out? I see plenty of trust issues in this marriage that would be made worse by his often ill-thought actions.
Oh, and what’s with that awful thing with the shooting late in the story? It comes out of nowhere and turns the whole thing into a farce, predictably culminating in Phoebe being the victim. This part is so badly handled, I actually cringe in embarrassment on the author’s behalf. The author can do comedy and character development well, but if this story is anything to go by, she needs to work a bit more on the romantic suspense bit. Right now, she makes Amanda Quick look like Agatha Christie.
I’m also not sure whether The Game and the Governess is a good romance. I enjoy following Ned’s story, but the lessons he learned and his epiphany never translate to action – he lies to Phoebe all the way to the end and finishes the whole story by hurting her several times in a row when his lies all come out into the open, all in good time for her to forgive him in the remaining few pages and agree to be his wife. The trajectory of such a relationship is usually towards the dumpster rather than the sunset. I can only conclude that I like reading this book, but that’s because I see it as Ned’s story rather than a typical romance novel.