Friday 11 December 2015

#CBR7 Book 134: "The Game and the Governess" by Kate Noble

Page count: 424 pages
Rating: 3 stars

At seventeen, Miss Sophie Baker is looking forward to her debut in society. She's only a few months away from graduating from a prestigious ladies' academy and her future looks bright. Then her father dies suddenly, destitute after having been swindled by a con man. Sophie's whole world changes and instead of a season and balls and pretty dresses, she's left to fend for herself, making a living as a governess. She blames the Earl of Ashby for her change in circumstance, as it was his former business manager who swindled her father. Had the Earl publicly denounced the man instead of just firing him, Sophie's father would never have lost everything they owned.

Five years later, having successfully saved up nearly enough to achieve her dreams of going to America to join her cousins, Sophie comes face to face with the Earl of Ashby. She just doesn't realise that he's not the man she thinks he is. Lord Edward Granville, the aforementioned Earl of Ashby, known to his friends as "Lucky Ned" has entered into a wager with his secretary, John Turner. For a period of two weeks, Ned has agreed to switch places with his secretary, to prove that his overall luck, popularity and success with the ladies, especially, has nothing to do with his wealth and title, but just his looks, charm and the luck that always seems to make him come out on top.

Turner proposed the wager both because he wanted to cut his pompous and oblivious employer down to size a bit. If he wins, he gets five thousand pounds to save his family's failing mill. If he loses, Ned will not only be even more insufferable, as he'll have been proven right, but he'll lose the mill once and for all. Trading places, Ned has to make a woman of gentle birth (no low-born and easily coerced servants allowed) fall in love with him and present him with a clear token of her affection. Ned thinks it's going to be a piece of cake and is also looking forward to showing the stuffy Turner that life as the Earl isn't always as care free and easy as it looks to be.

Despite the house they're staying in being full of eligible women, Ned is chagrined to realise that when people think he's a mere secretary, the same affable behaviour that normally has him welcomed with opened arms, is seen as overly familiar and inappropriate. While he may have spent his first twelve years in genteel poverty before becoming the former Earl's heir, he's gotten very used to his easy life of privilege. The only woman who will even give him a second glance is the governess, Miss Turner, and even with her, he has to work much harder than he ever has before to impress her. He has no idea that she blames him for her downfall in life, and by the time he discovers the truth, he's already fallen in love with her. Can the Earl of Ashby become a decent and likable human being over the course of two weeks and also convince a woman who has every right to hate him that she should spend the rest of her life with him?

While there was a lot of potential in this book, the romance feels more like a secondary plot than the main event. So much time is spent establishing the relationship between John Turner and Ned Granville and setting up the wager. Ned and Sophie don't even really speak until nearly halfway through the book. Then there's the fact that Ned, initially, really is a bit of an ass. He clearly needs to walk a mile or two in someone less fortunate's shoes and wake up and smell his privilege, and to be fair to Ms. Noble, he goes through a lot of changes over the course of the book. By the end, he's a pretty decent romance hero and has a lot more understanding for the position he put his friend Turner in.

While Ned is a bit of a douche-canoe initially, and Turner is frankly a bit of a bore, who spends quite some time trying to sabotage things for his friend, because he so desperately needs to win the wager to get the money to save his mill, Sophie is great and I am upset that so much of the book focuses on the friendly frenemy relationship of the dudes, when there is a lovely, strong, clever heroine, who despite the misfortunes she's suffered, has retained the ability to keep positive and choosing to see the silver lining rather than the clouds. While she was deeply upset with Ashby initially, five years later she has proved to herself that she's a resilient, self-sufficient woman. She's good with children, she's managed to make nearly enough money to achieve her dreams and she's really not looking for a man to complete her or "take her away" from her life of drudgery. She delivers a righteous slap to Ned when he kisses her the first time, having just presumes she wants him, and verbally berates him in the strongest terms.

There is a lot of good stuff in the book, and I'm sad that I can't rate it higher, but in a romance, I really do want the interaction between the hero and heroine to be the most prominent story line and it just didn't feel like that was the case here. So far, Kate Noble hasn't done anything that I actively hate, and I'm willing to give her a lot of slack for being a co-writer on my beloved Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I still have quite a few of her books from various book sales, but am not going to buy any more until I've found one that I can really fully recommend without several reservations.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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