Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review: The Silent Governess by Julie Klassen (4.5 stars, traditional)




Full Description: Amazon

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Thoughts After Reading:
Julie Klassen's The Silent Governess has been on my to-read traditional list for quite some time. And, as a traditional regency, it turned out to be a doozy (in a mostly good way). For one thing, I'm pretty sure it was the longest traditional novel I've ever read at four hundred and forty-eight pages. The narration felt like it was an older style than what I'm use to, but - to my happy surprise - it ended up being rather appealing. The storyline successfully combined a typical traditional romance storyline (one that stays very true to the time period and takes place over a number of months) with a moderately suspenseful and very elaborate mystery plot. As a result, I found the book to be thoroughly engaging despite its considerable length.  There were a few issues I had with the novel, but they were relatively minor.

Our heroine ends up being neither a gentlewoman nor really a commoner. She grew up as the "daughter of a clerk and a gentlewoman of reduced circumstances." As the book's description promises, when she finds a man who she believes is her drunkard father strangling her mother, she instinctively whacks him hard in the head. Afraid that she murdered him (and will be convicted as a murderer), she flees the area and looks for job as a teacher. During her travels, she accidentally overhears a conversation between the hero and his adopted the father on their estate grounds. The hero grew up believing he was the natural son (and therefore rightful heir to becoming an earl), and is shocked when he finds out he was adopted. The hero is one of those men who starts out proud and conceited, but is forced to undergo considerable change as the plot progresses. The gameskeeper finds the heroine hiding on the grounds, and has her locked up. The hero quickly hires her as a nurse for his nephews and nieces so he can keep her from sharing his secret, but not before she is almost strangled by a fellow prisoner (hence the "silent governess" part, at least for the first part of the story). This set the stage for the rest of the book. The hero and heroine interact frequently as the heroine works at the house and eventually becomes a governess to her charges. Unexpectedly, the hero and heroine grow to admire and enjoy each other's personality.  In the meanwhile, the heroine tries to find out what happened to her mother after she left while the hero looks into his own parentage as he decides what he should do with his future. The novel takes traditional regencies a step further by trying to give the reader a better view of what being a governess was really like. The book does this by including humorous or informational quotes at the beginning of each chapter, as well as with elements of the plot. For example, the plot repeatedly hammers the idea that governesses were neither family nor servants and often ended up being lonely as a result. I thought it was a pretty cool feature of the book.

With that groundwork, there were a few things that bothered me about The Silent Governess. For one thing, the storyline is actually pretty dark. Even during the heroine's travels towards the beginning of the book, she nearly gets: raped, punished severely for trespassing, and strangled to death. There were also considerable complications to both mystery plots, to the point that they almost became too excessive. As one exemplar, it turns out that the hero's adopted father is the heroine's mother's past lover back when the mother was a governess herself... so yea. The hero also ends up more often than not looking like either an ass or an idiot, with frequent fits of jealousy and accusations at both the heroine and others that make little sense. I'm going with the "idiot" explanation.  It was obviously used as a plot device so that the romance subplot could remain conflicted until after the extensive mystery subplot, but it became old quickly. On a related note, the romance plot really takes a back seat to the mystery and story as the novel progresses. It didn't really bother me much, since it was still a very interesting read, but it's worth mentioning.

Despite the faults I found with Klassen's The Silent Governess, my overall experience of the book was quite positive. The engaging storyline, particularly as the mystery plots were unwrapped, kept me interested in the plot and characters. The book stayed true to its traditional regency roots, and even tried to go the extra mile with historical descriptions of governing. The ending - including the epilouge - was also fairly enjoyable, even though it didn't have quite the same impact as the resolution to a strong romance plot. I'd definitely check it out if you get a chance.

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