After the Kiss

Heaven Forbids

The Irresistible McRae My Beloved

My True Love

My Wicked Fantasy

One Man's Love
When the Laird Returns

An Unlikely Governess
by Karen Ranney
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-075743-4
An Avon editor made the mistake of referring to Jane Eyre when introducing this book. After just a few pages, I was thinking more along the lines of Jane Airhead.

Beatrice Sinclair lost her parents, her family and almost everyone she knows in a cholera epidemic. Now, having sold virtually everything she owned to buy food and turned down a marriage proposal from the young minister who needs a mother for his two children, she’s on the verge of starvation. She applies for a barmaid’s position, but knows she can’t do the job because she could never “wear a blouse that revealed all her assets or a skirt that bared her ankles” or dispense “simpering smiles or coy looks.”

Instead, she will climb the mountain path above the village to the mysterious Castle Crannoch and ask the Duke of Brechin for employment, even though the rumors suggest that “no woman of good character would seek employment there.” Dressed only in a thin dress and shawl, Beatrice sets off up the “long and winding road” in the cold November rain.

En route she is nearly run down by a dark coach drawn by “stallions from hell.” When the carriage stops a short way up the road she wonders briefly if it is foolish to accept a ride in a strange carriage, then climbs in. Once inside, she’s relieved to discover that the occupant is a faultlessly handsome man with a dimple. “Surely a man with a dimple could not be evil?”

They arrive at the castle, where Beatrice discovers that her benefactor is Devlen Gordon, and that the duke, Robert, is an obnoxious seven-year-old under the guardianship of his uncle (and Devlen’s father) Cameron Gordon. Cameron is in a wheelchair, apparently crippled in the same carriage accident that killed Robert’s parents.

Faint with hunger, Beatrice passes out. When she revives, tucked up in bed and wondering if it was Devlen who undressed her, she finds that Cameron is sitting across the room. He offers her a position as Robert’s governess and, lulled by a warm bed and more food than she’s seen in a month, she accepts.

Gothics seem to be the newest romance fad. This book is apparently supposed to be a Gothic, but like so many authors jumping on the bandwagon, the usually dependable Ranney misses the point in a really big way.

The biggest problem some authors have is creating a Gothic tone, and this book, in my opinion, makes all the obvious mistakes. Creating a Gothic atmosphere is not about informing us, over and over in ominous tones, that all is not as it should be at the Castle. The best Gothic writers (Victoria Holt and Anne Stuart come to mind) tell us that everything is exactly as it should be, then show us that appearances are deceiving, slowly and inexorably building a case that neither reader nor heroine can ignore.

They also feature ambiguous heroes who, it looks all too likely, may have some hand in the villainy. Although Devlen would make a rather splendid hero in a Regency historical, ‘ambiguity’ is not exactly the first word that springs to mind when describing him.

Beatrice and Devlen have some very nice moments together, particularly once they start to develop an emotional relationship. Unfortunately this doesn’t happen until very late in the book. For most of the story they are simply in lust. This felt rather cold in the ‘hero’ and weirdly uncharacteristic for Beatrice. This well-brought-up young woman, who objected to showing her ankles in a pub, is suddenly longing for physical intimacy with Devlen after he kisses her and cops a few feels. It didn’t raise my opinion of her intelligence, and it made it difficult to believe in a love story.

Afer watching Devlen and Beatrice wander around thinking lascivious thoughts about each other for most of the book, the ending arrives in a great rush, with the villain and a Big Dark Secret appearing practically out of nowhere, leaving the reader feeling dazed and unsatisfied.

Karen Ranney has written some wonderful books – her medievals, for example are complex, witty and realistic. An Unlikely Governess doesn’t feel as though it was written by the same person.

-- Judi McKee

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