24 April, 2012
Review: The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan
On the surface The Governess Affair is a long novella setting up Milan's next series. (The Turner Brothers are dead, long live The Brothers Sinister.) TGA is also an amazing example of folding content into a short form. Within The Governess Affair Milan delivers a satisfying and light romance while also exploring some dark themes. At play in the story of Hugo and Serena are issues of consent, the basis of power (interpersonal and societal), reactions to trauma, self perception in mental illness, family dynamics both functional and not, dignity, self determination... the list goes on. I could talk longer about The Governess Affair in a completely spoiler way than I could about the last five books I read put together.
All of that praise being heaped, The Governess Affair has a slow start. The first few pages feel choppy, like the story isn't quite sure about itself. Hugo handles the Duke's life while quietly despising him. Got it. Less than a handful of pages in, TGA finds it's footing and never lets go again. Hugo is our Duke's fixer, his enforcer, his right hand man, the master behind the puppet. Serena is the governess who has chosen to occupy their square. She is taking a stand for recognition and she's taking it on Hugo's doorstep. From here we have an unfolding of quietly revealing moments as each shows glimpses of their cards. Both have been dealt their hands by other people, both are trying to play them to the best advantage they can. Neither is willing to fold and both are willing to bluff. The bluff isn't over what they could do, rather how much of it they are willing to do. Each of them could completely ruin the other. It is impossible for the game to end in a draw.
I identified with the forces driving Hugo and Serena. I found their emotional reactions authentic and believable. Hugo is holding out for one big payoff, the stake for his future, the justification for all the struggle he has gone through to get to it. He can't see that the payoff is costing him as much as the road to it ever did. Serena has a compelling family situation (in multiple respects) and an equally strong desire for her struggle to end in security. The events leading to her occupying the square, her reaction to them, was very familiar to me. In keeping with The Turner Brothers, neither Hugo nor Serena have the sort of warm family that Julia Quinn's characters do. Which sets up an interesting question for The Brothers Sinister. It is likely that at least one of the leads from that series will come from almost exactly such a stable and caring home. How is Milan going to kneecap him?
Spend the buck. Skip the cheap coffee. Join in me in waiting feverishly for The Brothers Sinister.