Book Review: When A Duke Loves A Governess by Olivia Drake
Tessa James, milliner’s assistant, has just quit her job and applied for a position as governess to a duke’s wilful 4-year-old daughter in the hopes that living amongst the ton, somewhere she might spy on a carriage door the crest on the locket her dying mother gave her, so she can find her true father.
If this doesn’t make it very clear that Tessa is both ridiculously naive and has extremely low impulse control, I don’t know what will. Somehow Tessa manages to bluff and lie her way through the interview with Guy, Duke of Carlin, and get the job, at which point we get to meet Sophy, the adorable but extremely spoiled plot moppet.
There are several parallel plots going on at the same time here, because not only is Tessa trying to find out who her real father is (so she can get him to front her the money to start her own millinery shop) but it comes to light that someone is killing off the Dukes of Carlin and their male heirs… and Guy is next in their sights. Tessa finds her family, who are a lot more important than she could have imagined, the killer sets their sights on Tessa and she has to self-rescue, and somehow along the way both civilize Sophy and fall in love with Guy. It’s a lot.
And I’m afraid it’s a bit too much. Especially considering that this is explicitly a power dynamic relationship - employer/employee - the internal conflict inherent in the relationship needs to be addressed and it’s pretty much ignored in favour of dealing with all the external stuff going on around Tessa and Guy.
I also need to warn for dubious consent; Tessa drinks the first alcohol of her life in Guy’s study one night, is clearly inebriated, and propositions him. He flips from ‘you’re drunk, you need to go to bed’ to making love to her in about ten seconds flat. And despite the fact that we’ve been getting regular glimpses into Guy’s head throughout, from this point on we don’t get anything. We don’t know anything about what he wants from Tessa. What his plans for her are. Not until he discovers that she’s of noble blood. And that has to be a conscious decision because seeing into Guy’s head I suspect would make us not like him very much. He’s slept with an employee absolutely dependent on his goodwill… and it’s not until he discovers that she actually has a powerful relative, announces that of course he’ll marry her because she’s compromised. I liked that she said no, but I badly wanted her to call him on his hypocrisy - addressing that internal conflict between them - but it didn’t happen. The fact that Guy’s done something pretty awful is actually never addressed at all because suddenly it’s all about the mystery part of the plot, and that disappointed me.
There are things I liked here. Guy is a super interesting character and Sophy, far from being the matchmaking angelic child often seen in romances of this sort, is a child with complex needs which do get acknowledged and handled sympathetically. Tessa occasionally comes across as TSTL and completely lacking in common sense on every topic except for how to deal with Sophy, which she does very well. Now unfortunately, people that lacking in common sense drive me utterly bonkers. That plus the dubious consent and the failure to address the problematic power dynamic mean that despite quite liking a lot of this book… I can’t give it any more than three stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.