The Mistress of Trevelyan, by Jennifer St Giles

13 Sep

The Mistress of TrevelyanThe Mistress of Trevelyan, by Jennifer St Giles

A week or so ago, there was a recommendation thread  for Gothic romances over at Smart Bitches.. While I am not a dedicated fan, I have read a few, and particularly enjoyed Sandra Schwab’s Castle of the Wolf as an excellent example of a modern take on the historical Gothic.

This book was mentioned a couple of times as a good read, I really liked the blurb from amazon, and at $2.99, the price was right, so I bought it, and a couple of days ago I started to read it.

Sadly, it didn’t live to my expectations at all, and some parts were frankly quite terrible.

Here’s the blurb from amazon:

In 1873 San Francisco, Ann Lovell, a young woman desperate to change her future, dares to take on the position of governess to the sons of the mysterious and enigmatic Benedict Trevelyan.  She refuses to believe in the dark rumors of a cursed family  or that he had a hand in the death of his wife.  After all, Ann was a practical woman and had no patience for nonsense.  She also knew firsthand how cruel and untrue gossip could be, for it had ruined her mother’s life.

But from the moment Ann enters the Trevelyan Manor, she is aware of a sinister force at work and as she becomes embroiled in the lives of those living within shadowed halls, she discovers dangerous secrets. Everyone is not who they appear to be and someone doesn’t want her there, especially when she starts asking questions about the death of Benedict’s wife.

As Ann uncovers more and more about the past, she believes that the previous Mistress of Trevelyan was murdered.  Yet, her heart succumbs not only to the small, motherless boys in her care, but also falls prey to the master of Trevelyan Manor and his passions.  He introduces her to  a new world of sensual pleasures that shake her loose from her practical foundations.

Soon, the danger surrounding her grows deadly and the key to Ann’s destiny or destruction lies within Benedict’s arms, as she is forced to question if his attentions are meant to blind her to the truth, or if someone else wants her dead before she becomes the next…Mistress of Trevelyan.

The story is told in the first person, which is definitely not a favorite of mine–if I don’t like the narrator,  it’s very hard for me to like the story. And first person, unlike deep point of view, doesn’t give me enough distance from the character to excuse inconsistencies. So when Ann kept repeating just how practical she was, and then reacting with very little thought, it was jarring to say the least.

Despite my dislike first person narrative, I truly enjoyed the beginning of the novel. Ann is not just a young woman desperate to change her circumstances. She is the illegitimate daughter of a laundress. She is, pretty much, low as dirt when it comes to the social pecking order, let alone poor as the proverbial church mouse. Her mother ran away from a fanatically religious father and into the bed of a scoundrel who promptly impregnated and then abandoned her. Not having a lot of practical skills, she became a laundress, but was determined to provide her daughter with at least the illusion of more by immersing her in books and learning.

After her mother’s death, Ann is faced with the reality of a life of drudgery with the very occasional treat of buying a book to read, and the friendship of the bookshop proprietor as her only solace. In a fit of daring, she “steals” an advert placed on the bookshop’s window, wherein the master of Trevelyan Hill mansion is looking for a tutor for his young kids.

I really liked the idea of a young woman–she mentions later that she’s twenty four–with no formal education, no references, and literally one step away from the streets, having the balls to knock on the front door of a mansion to demand a position as tutor to the family’s children, and who perseveres in the face of automatic and deeply ingrained disdain.

And so Ann enters Trevelyan Hill.

Unfortunately, things quickly deteriorated from here.

As the blurb indicates, there are secrets surrounding the death of Benedict Trevelyan’s first wife, and the family dynamics are pretty screwed up. However, the author telegraphs the identity of the villain, if not the motives for the murder, within a handful of chapters, through the heavy use of clichés.

Here, just a taste: the cast of characters.

  • Snotty butler who is perpetually outraged that such a lowly creature is allowed within the hallowed rooms of the mansion.
  • Rakish drunkard of a younger brother with a very strained relationship with the hero.
  • Recently widowed, stern and disapproving mother who immediately warns our heroine against trying to snare either of her sons.
  • Deaf sister with her own tragic love story who paints brilliant yet chilling images of joy and anguish (reading the description, I kept picturing Munch’s  Scream plunked into one of Monet’s gardens).
  • Mysteriously dead slutty half crazy useless first wife.
  • Perfectly dainty, incredibly elegant and utterly shallow sister-in-law.
  • Sad, charming, adorable and tormented plot moppets (two for the price of one).
  • Urbane and witty business partner cum friend of the family.
  • Dark, brooding, distant, and by turns cold and passionate lord of the manor.
  • MarySue-ish heroine who has almost every other character in the story eating from her not-so-delicate hands within days.

Why not so delicate, you ask? Because Ann must tell us, repeatedly, just how damaged her hands are from years of lye soap and hot water. Just as often as we hear how tall and big she is for a woman, how poorly she compares to the delicate femininity of both Katherine Trevelyan and Constance Ortega.

Other clichés include the forbidding mansion, demon carved front doors, secret passages, scarlet fever, anonymous threatening notes, a curse, and the sealed off turret from whence Benedict’s wife fell to her death–or, if the rumors are true,2 was thrown.

Then we have the writing itself, flowery and purple, but unevenly so. There were a couple of instances that made me wince, but this one (just past the halfway mark) had me literally groaning:

I wanted to take the needle of truth and the thread of wisdom and mend the gaps between them before the edges of their lives became to frayed to ever repair.

Excuse me while I gag a little–and not just because seriouly? needle of truth?, but because this is the woman who keeps telling me over and over just how practical she is.

On top of all of this, we have shitty formatting. At least, I am assuming it’s the formatting and not just really poor sense of how to do scene transitions. As when there’s an afternoon scene of Ann at the cemetery in front of her mother’s grave marveling at Benedict’s sensitivity, and in the next paragraph she’s washing up in order to take the secret passage way from the school room to Benedict’s bedroom. In the middle of the night, of course.

Go ahead, wrap your head around that.

I really wanted to like this book, because as I said earlier, I truly liked the idea of a woman from the wrong side of the tracks having the gumption to reach for more. Every so often there would be a passage or the lucky full scene where that heroine would come back, so I kept reading hoping she would stay. More’s the pity, it didn’t happen.

So where does all this leave me? Honestly, not particularly eager to try anything else by this author, not even to find out what happens with the younger brother.

The Mistress of Trevelyan gets a 5.50 out of 10.

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2 Responses to “The Mistress of Trevelyan, by Jennifer St Giles”

  1. SuperWendy 15/09/2014 at 6:51 PM #

    Errr, I’m positive I have this in the print TBR along with several other books by this author. I’m a sucker for gothics even though finding a current author who does them well is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

    Your review doesn’t instill much hope, but I’ll probably at least skim through it anyway. Uh, one of these days. Because, you know, mammoth TBR.

    • azteclady 15/09/2014 at 9:15 PM #

      *wince* I’m sorry. I know there are people who loved these books–they were fairly enthusiastically recommended by those who mentioned them in that thread at the Smart Bitches–but I really found it more disappointing than anything else.

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