Talk about "Gothic Revival" -- this romance successfully revives some of the style, conventions and tropes of the Gothic romances that were popular about 30 years ago (think Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney). But there are a few twists to update it for current readers. It's got a first-person narrator (a governess, of course!) and it's set in 1873, and takes place largely within a forbidding turreted stone Victorian mansion, perched on a hill in San Francisco, with plenty of atmospheric fog around it. The house is nearly a character in itself. The master is dark, sexy and mysterious, and may have killed his wife, but all of the family members in the house seem to have their secrets. The sex scenes are a little more explicit than they used to be in such books, and there's more mental lusting after the master going on. This book worked pretty well for me, with a few issues: this is a new writer whose writing style often drops into cliches, and also, the two young boys whom the governess teaches are not believable. Like little adorable dolls, spouting wit & wisdom beyond their years at every turn. "I wuv you," one actually says (a slight speech impediment being such a cute thing in a child). Still, it was kind of fun to see the old Gothic romances revived and I was nearly cheering each time some old setpiece got trotted out (a fierce black stallion, a visit to a graveyard, books with mysterious inscriptions, a parrot who offers prophetic utterances, etc.)
Ann (short for Titiana) Lovell is the illegitimate child of a well bred women whose life was destroyed by having a child out of wedlock. They wind up in San Francisco where they support themselves taking in laundry, where Ann grows to be a hard-working, loving and intelligent young woman, basking in the wealth of her mother's love if not in actual wealth. Unfortunately, her mother dies, leaving Ann aloneâ¦ and it's at this point that she sees an advertisement for a job as a tutor for the young boys of Benedict Trevelyan, a wealthy man who's the center of a storm of local scandal. Ann is determined to escape the life of drudgery and convinces him to hire her as his childrens' governess. Even though she's thrilled to have made a huge step up socially (and financially), she now has to deal with the animosity of Benedict's mother, a mysterious enemy (who could be anyone in the house just about) who's trying to scare her into leaving, and her own inappropriate feelings for the master of the houseâ¦ who might have been responsible for murdering her charges' mother!
*** "The Mistress of Trevelyan" is a competent if bloodless gothic. At first I was interested enough in Ann to want to find out what happens to her, and how she manages to win her battle to pull herself out of the drudgery of her life as a laundress, but the characters and plot never managed to do anything more than just kind of plod along to it's well-trod conclusion. The period the book is set in is unusual for me and I wish St. Giles could have spent more time fleshing out the historical details of this interesting time, but honestly, the book could have been set during just about any period and it wouldn't have mattered. And about the love scenes - St. Giles tries her best to make them sexy but just seems to miss the mark. Part of the problem comes from Ann's constant exclamations of "Goodness gracious" or "My heavenly word", which is supposed to be in character for Ann but just destroys the mood.
Probably the best thing about the book is her relationship with the boys - you can really feel her caring and affection for them, and the way they bloom under her attention is wonderful. Also, although also a little formulaic, Ann's competitive, one-uping relationship with the snooty, irascible Trevelyan butler provides some comedy and fun.
Conclusion: Recommended for fans of the genre but that's about it - it's not a *bad* book but not particularly good, either.
couldn't get into it for some reason