Whether it was my mood, or a super-busy two weeks, I slogged through the first in Kaye’s new series, From Governess to Countess. If I had to give you a baseline of my narrative immersion, it’d be: perked up to the premise, dragged my way through two-thirds and zipped through the last. Kaye’s novel is well-researched, with a fascinating and nicely developped setting, a lovely heroine and engaging secondary characters. The hero, on the other hand, is concocted out of bleached-out niceness and a copious dose of cluelessness.
I loved the premise: a mysterious “Procurer,” a woman, in 1815 London, seeks out disgraced women to offer them a task that may reestablish their finances and reputation. She is a “procurer” of second chances and her first mission is Miss Allison Galbraith, a Scottish herbalist, whose work has been derided by London’s medical establishment. The Procurer offers Allison a job, in St. Petersburg, as governess to the three orphaned children of Duke and Duchess Derevenko, presently in the care of their military-officer Uncle Aleksei, recently returned from defeating Napoleon.
Aleksei, however, has plans for his hired governess that have nothing to do with her paedagogical abilities. Allison’s governess position is the cover for the true purpose of her presence at the Derevenko Palace, her knowledge of herbs and, in particular, poisons. Kaye does a wonderful job of building the suspense that will tells us why Allison’s knowledge and foreigner’s neutrality and discretion are necessary to Aleksei. Thereafter, the mystery proceeds in fits, starts, and sputters, as Kaye tries to establish a growing relationship behind her hero and heroine, contend with Allison’s arrival in a strange culture, as well as her attempts to reach three grieving orphans, and describe the glories of early 19th century St. Petersburg. Despite so much going on, the narrative dragged in the first half.
Was it a case of it’s me, not you, vis-à-vis From Governess To Countess? Probably a little of both. Why did the narrative take so long to get off the ground? And why could I never fully be immersed in it? I think my problem lay with the hero and the reasons around which he and Allison couldn’t be together. While working to care for the children, solve a mystery, and run huge estates, Aleksei is a caring, gentle man who easily expresses his affection and attraction to Allison. As does she. They smoothly fall into a physical affair that is spicy, solicitous, attentive, and warm-hearted.
All well and good, it’s obvious they’re falling in love. Into this narrative, Kaye weaves some marvelous scenes: a droll one where Allison badly renders Scottish ballads, several boat rides along the Neva, and, my favourite, a wonderfully-rendered outing to a food market. The problem? Even though the war is over and his duty clearly with his nieces and nephew, this lovely man, Aleksei, cluelessly insists that he’s never envisioned a life with a family, or being married. He cares only for his freedom. Duh. He insists on the impossibility of being with Allison, his reasons vague, and even purchases her passage from St. Petersburg back to England. Allison, in turn, has always envisioned a life as a healer, but she manages to work her knowledge in the Derevenko Palace by opening a dispensary for the many servants Aleksei employs. She is more aware of her feelings and desires, though she indulges in some cross-class contradictory thoughts that were unconvincing. In the end, I greatly enjoyed the atmosphere and historical background to the novel, but never really warmed to Allison and Aleksei, together or apart, until the end. With Miss Austen, we deem Kaye’s From Governess to Countess “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
Marguerite Kaye’s From Governess to Countess is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on March 1st and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-ARC, from Harlequin, via Netgalley.