Mills & Boon, £4.99, ISBN 978-0-263-91721-5
Historical Romance, 2016
While this one came out a few months before Christmas, The Cinderella Governess turns out to be the perfect kind of story for that time of the year. This is a possibility that I won’t warm up to this one as much as I did if I had read it during any other time of the year, but this Christmas, it is just what I need. It captures the whole fairy tale feeling of falling in love with that special someone so well that it is so easy to forgive some fundamental problems with this one.
For as long as Joanna Radcliff, our heroine, can recall, Madame Dubois’s School for Young Ladies is the only home and family she has. Alas, when the story opens, she has to leave for the outside world, to carve out a life of her own. Like most ladies who are educated but have little prospects for marriage, she will be a governess. In fact, she already has a gig: she will be posted to the household of Sir Rodger Huntford. Unfortunately, what she finds there is far from what she imagines her life would be. The daughters are all surly and bratty, with the eldest one determined to ruin herself with an unsuitable man as much as possible, while their mother looks down her snobby nose at Joanna and Sir Rodger blames her for his daughters’ inability to behave. Our heroine bites her tongue, but she wonders how long more she can take of this unpleasant family before she loses her temper.
Meanwhile, Major Luke Preston is forcibly recalled from doing that bang-bang-bang thing on scummy French soldiers in the Continent by his father, the Earl of Ingham. Luke is the spare, which explains why he gets to do that soldier thing, but thus far, his older brother Edward has failed to produce an heir. Consequently, the Earl decides that it is time for Luke to come back, settle down with an appropriate bride, and produce a son to ensure that the title will remain within the family should something happen to the Earl and Edward. Edward and Luke have never gotten along since their teens, and Luke’s return is a sore and even hurtful reminder to Edward and his wife of their so-called failure. As you can imagine, the two brothers alternate between “I’ll do my best to be polite” gritted-teeth forced amicability and outright hostility.
Luke meets our heroine Joanna when she accompanies her charge, the eldest daughter, to a ball, and Luke steps in to protect Joanna when she finds her charge in a compromising position with that silly girl’s unsuitable boyfriend. Which is to say, when that girl tries to threaten Joanna that she will get our heroine dismissed, Luke in turn tells her that she has better not cause Joanna any trouble if she wants Luke to keep silent about the whole scene. Luke and Joanna strike up a rapport, and each of them realizes that it is so easy to just be himself or herself in the other person’s company. I have to give credit to the author: these two characters form a quick yet believable comfortable chemistry that has me buying the whole romance wholesale.
Alas, Luke needs to marry a blue-blooded bride with the right connections, and they both understand this. And this is where the story becomes somewhat magical: the author allows the relationship to build slowly, gradually, so much so that there is a tragic, star-crossed quality to the whole thing that tugs at my heartstrings. What can I say, it’s Christmastime, and I’m a softie at this time of the year. When they finally kiss, oh, it is as if a swelling of violins reach a crescendo inside my head or something.
Mind you, to appreciate this story, you have to accept some incredible series of happenstance just falling into place perfectly here for Joanna, such as our heroine just happening to be posted at a place where her grandfather, a wealthy nobleman of course, will quickly stumble upon her and realize that she is the granddaughter he never knew existed. And this grandfather just happens to be the mortal enemy of Luke’s family, giving rise to both our hero and heroine trying very hard to beat one another in a contest to become the biggest martyr to love. But hey, I’ll buy everything the author has to sell here, because I am swept away into the whole whimsical nature of this story, and I don’t want the ride to stop.
Even the whole martyr thing is okay with me, because the author pulls that off in a way that makes sense. Which is to say, I roll up my eyes a bit when I’m hit with all that nonsense, but that’s because it has been played out so often in so many romance novels and even romantic movies. But the whole martyrdom marathon makes sense in the context of this story, and I can understand the main characters’ motivations for pulling that stunt.
I don’t like, however, how Joanna just keeps going “Oh, there is no hope!” non-stop in the last few chapters of this story. I wonder what the author is thinking to have the heroine actively doubting the relationship so much at such a late stage in the story. Am I suppose to believe that she will be magically reassured and all her doubts will vanish the moment the hero puts a ring on her finger? It doesn’t reflect well on her maturity if that is the case, and sadly, the heroine actually comes off as mature and level-headed for the most part of the story. It’s just that her personality expresses a regression in the last few chapters of the book, but this is something that I notice the author loves to do in her books. Every time she needed conflict in the past, watch as the heroine spazzes out in uncharacteristic moments of imbecility. So, Joanna isn’t an unique case – all the author’s heroines that I’ve encountered do this. Still, the author has done everything else well, so it’s a shame that the heroine’s metamorphosis to cheap, dumb plot device is so obvious.
At any rate, The Cinderella Governess may have its flaws, but it is a story that encapsulates so well that magical feeling of meeting and falling for someone in a fairy tale where dreams really can come true. Hence, I’m perfectly fine with this book – here are my two thumbs up. But if you want to read this one, though… well, keep it for December or for moments when you are more susceptible to being overwhelmed with happy, fuzzy feelings – just to be on the safe side.