St Martin’s Press, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-250-10090-0
Historical Romance, 2016
The Lacey sisters have fallen on very hard times. After their parents died in a tragic accident, they were taken in by an uncle who – like all uncles go in such stories – is so absent-minded and self-absorbed that he had no idea that his own finances could not allow him to live as he did and still care for three additional mouths to feed. Thus, while he may not know it, but he’s this close to being flung into debtor’s prison. The eldest sister, Margaret, decides to accept a friend’s invitation to show up for an interview for the position of a governess in an Earl’s place. The awkward thing here is that she was, once upon a time, supposed to marry the current Earl of Castleton. Don’t worry, there’s a perfectly sensible reason as to why an earl would arrange for his son to marry a vicar’s daughter ages ago, but that’s a spoiler so I believe I am not supposed to tell.
William Ryder, our hero, just wants to live a carefree life of wine, women, and song, but unfortunately, his cousin died, and now he has to care of that man’s two young girls. Hence, the need for a governess. He isn’t too keen on seeing Meg again, but when his nieces take to her quickly, he realizes that she’s the solution to all his problems. Of course, her presence in his life will give rise to another kind of problem, if you know what I mean, and I’m sure you do, if you have read before any story featuring wise and sensible governesses who mouth off to and end up charming their wealthy employers into marrying them.
Anna Bennett, who used to write as Anne Barton, has done plenty of things here that I like. For one, she tries to do more than just regurgitate the tropes; she tries to make sure that every trope that happens here happens for a sensible reason. Despite the presence of ex-mistresses and rude mothers galore, these characters never feel too much like obvious foils for our heroine. The heroine’s reason for not wanting to marry the hero ages ago made plenty of sense too, without seeming too modern and anachronistic for her time. The two brats aren’t too horrifying either, much to my pleasant surprise. Sure, the brats are written in a very manipulative manner, but I find myself more charmed than besieged by the need to grab a crucifix. Oh, and the hero is pretty charming.
But the story follows the expected storyline so faithfully, right down to the whole tired, boring “I will never marry, but I need some sex for that one special moment to remember for the rest of my self-imposed cold and barren days, so I will NEVER marry him even if he begs me too because… NEVER!” nonsense that the heroine just keeps bleating until my eyes ache from all that rolling up action she makes me instinctively do. Sure, Meg may have her reasons to be the way she is, but I tell you, she just keeps determined to make life so miserable for herself that she makes the whole thing a dreary, joyless read – especially as the story progresses and her need to self-immolate herself in martyrdom starts to resemble a psychological complex best treated with either pharmaceuticals or a blow in the head, rather than TLC from the hero.
Anyway, the heroine and the structure of the plot, right down to twists and revelations that only make the heroine more determined to keep rejecting William – oh, for heaven’s sake, how many reasons does this creature need anyway to keep doing her nonsense? – these have all been done to death many, many times before. The author’s efforts to give sensible reasons and motivations for these tired old tropes to take place are much appreciated, but come on, the end result is still a played-out boring story. This one is basically an exercise in eating that same old meal that I’ve eaten so often that I’m rather sick of it. No matter how many good excuses the chef may have to keep serving it to me, it’s not going to change anything – I’d like something different for a change, thanks, and My Browned-Eyed Earl does not have enough variations and twists on the tired old tropes to keep things fresh.