The Governess Affair, by Courtney Milan

>> Monday, May 07, 2012

TITLE: The Governess Affair
AUTHOR: Courtney Milan

PAGES: 33,000 words (which would be about 130 pages of a mass market paperback, I think)
PUBLISHER: Self-published

SETTING: Mid-19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Starts the Brothers Sinister series


Three months ago, governess Serena Barton was let go from her position. Unable to find new work, she's demanding compensation from the man who got her sacked: a petty, selfish, swinish duke. But it's not the duke she fears. It's his merciless man of business-the man known as the Wolf of Clermont. The formidable former pugilist has a black reputation for handling all the duke's dirty business, and when the duke turns her case over to him, she doesn't stand a chance. But she can't stop trying-not with her entire future at stake.


Hugo Marshall is a man of ruthless ambition-a characteristic that has served him well, elevating the coal miner's son to the right hand man of a duke. When his employer orders him to get rid of the pestering governess by fair means or foul, it's just another day at the office. Unfortunately, fair means don't work on Serena, and as he comes to know her, he discovers that he can't bear to use foul ones. But everything he has worked for depends upon seeing her gone. He'll have to choose between the life that he needs, and the woman he is coming to love…
I really liked Courtney Milan's previous novella, Unlocked, so I bought this one as soon as it came out. And then I just proceeded to gobble it up in one sitting.

Hugo Marshall works for the Duke of Clermont, as a cross between man of business and enforcer. He always delivers, by any means possible, which has caused him to become known as the Wolf of Clermont. Hugo neither likes nor respects the Duke, but he's determined to prove his coal miner father wrong and become rich. To do so, he's set things up so that if the Duke does well, Hugo does well, too. And as the book starts, making sure the Duke does well means making sure his wife comes back to him, with the fortune she controls.

Serena Barton is threatening to derail that reconcilation. Clermont claims it's all about a minor employment dispute, but Hugo soon realises that's not quite it. Serena has been badly wronged by Clermont, and is determined to get her own back. She's hit on a way that's bound to be quite effective, so Hugo must make a difficult choice.

I hadn't even read what the story was about (that's how much I trust Milan), so as soon as I started reading I thougth oh, joy, neither hero nor heroine are aristocrats. And they're really not! She really is an impoverished gentlewoman, who used to be a governess, and he really is a coal miner's son. No tricks, no hidden identities.

When readers discuss the dearth of non-aristocratic heroes in historical romance, something that always gets mentioned is that many readers can't contemplate a hero who's in a position of weakness. And in their minds, anyone who's not either an aristocrat or stinking rich, must be powerless and subject to the upper classes' whims. Well, meet Hugh. A coal-miner's son, not much money, and he wraps Clermont around his little finger through sheer force of personality. And in a way I completely believed, too.

Milan explores the issue of lack of power in a different way, through Serena's circumstances. What happens to her illustrates the the dark side of the power of the aristocracy over regular people, but at the same time, she refuses to accept her supposed powerlessness and finds a way to get power over the Duke for herself. She will not accept any less than what she sees as fair compensation, and oh, how I understood her. I totally got the need to make a fuss, to have the man who'd wronged her pay a price for his actions, and how while that doesn't fix things, it does provide satisfaction.

I really liked the romance, even though I did have some issues with it. I loved how Serena instinctively saw beneath the Wolf of Clermont facade, and felt safe with Hugh, and I loved how Hugh's struggle with his decision about the right thing to do was reflected in the development of his relationship with Serena. The only issue I had was that I thought some things happened a bit suddenly, and I felt I needed a bit more insight into what was going on in the characters' heads. That was the case with Hugo falling in love, and also with Serena realising she needed a real wedding night. Still, this wasn't a big issue for me, just a way in which a good story could have been even better.

I should also mention how I loved the last chapter. I'm not going to say what's in it, just that I was surprised I liked it so much, because it was something that risked annoying the reader by concentrating too much on selling the future books. But Milan was on the right side of the line here... just. This chapter did sell the next books (it really did, I can't wait to read them, now), but it was also very much about Serena and Hugh and told us a lot about how they were doing, in an indirect, non-sappy way. I liked it all very much.



Samantha 8 May 2012 at 01:40  

I'm glad that you liked this one more than I did, Rosario! I did like that both of the leads weren't rich or in traditional positions of power. I also liked that the hero was described as being pretty plain looking. It was a refreshing change. :)

Rosario 9 May 2012 at 06:39  

I really appreciated both those things. It does seem like self-publishing means we'll get more of these sorts of things marketing departments hate!

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