For whatever reason, I am finding it increasingly difficult to be satisfied with straight-out romances. I’m not sure if this is because of a definite change in me as a reader or just a case of the story not being good enough. The story in this case being Kate Noble’s awfully titled, The Game and the Governess. (Why are so many of the romances titled so unimaginatively?)
An excerpt from the back cover:
As the Earl of Ashby, Lord Edward Granville, has never been in short supply of luck. . . Making a wager that he can have any woman he desires even without his title, Ned switches places with John Turner, his friend and secretary. . . . Phoebe wants nothing more than to keep her head down, teach her students, and go unnoticed—especially by the Earl of Ashby. But his rakish secretary has the infuriating habit of constantly crossing her path.
I’ve read Miss Noble’s books before and really enjoyed Let It Be Me & If I Fall—two of my favourite historical romances of the recent past. Miss Noble, who is also Kate Rorick, was also one of the writers on The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and is a co-writer with Bernie Su on The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet.
Impressive credentials, right? But Miss Rorick’s/Noble’s latest book is meh at best. I love the basic premise around which the story is constructed—the hero through the course of the story becomes aware of the privileged life he has led thus far. A trope that one doesn’t generally encounter in romance novels. However, this premise while a refreshing one to read about, felt very superficial in its construction, say unlike, Thorn by Intisar Khanani which also deals with the question of privilege.
To top it, I just wasn’t convinced by the hero’s character development. We’re told that he becomes the person he is—someone who’s called “Lucky Ned” but is really just pretending to be happy—because he “crave[d] distraction. And letting those distractions amuse [him], as much as they could.” Presumably this is because as a child of 12, he was taken away from his mother’s side and placed by his great uncle’s side, an earl, whose title he would eventually inherit.
This background story—the motivation—for his character being presented the way it is, seemed flimsy to me. What about all those years of relative poverty that he lived through before being taken away to live the life of the prodigal son? Has it had no influence on him at all? I find it a little dubious that he’s able to consistently disregard all the unhappiness that has been apparently accumulating since the age of 12 till the inflection point in The Game And The Governess. I can sort of buy into it but I’m not fully convinced. It feels like lazy plotting. (Sorry, Miss Noble!)
One of the things I did like was the portrayal of the relationship between the Earl of Ashby and John Turner, his secretary. The account of the battle in which Ned saves Turner’s life, from each of their POVs, was a good way to let the reader glimpse into how each of the men view their relationship—for Ned, it’s a friendship with all its accompanying right to tease and be merry; for Turner its an obligation, and a burden that has been chafing at him since the time he took on the post as Ashby’s secretary.
I also liked the scenes that feature the heroine, Phoebe Baker. She’s been dealt a bad hand by fate but she hasn’t let that crush her spirit. Instead she practices drawing upon “boundless reserves of jollity:”
After my father died, I could have given into anger. I could have made it so I seethed and was bitter and let it eat me up inside. But I had a teacher who told me that should not let it break me. That I still had a right to happiness. Instead, I decided to work toward something, America. And I decided to be happy.
Yes, happiness is a decision. And it is an easy one to make when everything is going your way, but when it’s not? I saved my soul by finding silly things to laugh at everyday. Until it became habit. Until all I want to do everyday is enjoy it.
The other heroine, Leticia, who I guess will be featured in the next book, was also quite intriguing. In fact, I’m looking forward to reading John Turner’s and Leticia’s book.
So I guess that means that I’m not giving up on Miss Noble yet! Or on romance! Oh, well!