“The Governess Affair” by Courtney Milan

28 Sep
A white woman with long, curly reddish brown hair, wearing a long bright yellow gown, looking down to the daisy corsage she's holding

This novella is a prequel to The Duchess War; it establishes one of the most important relationships for the hero of that novel, and thus is the first installment of the Brothers Sinister series, despite having been written a couple of years after the release of that book.

Reader, beware: backstory of physical abuse by a parent, backstory of rape, difficult sibling relationships, general trauma, and a most lovely scene of consent, seduction, and sex.

“The Governess Affair” by Courtney Milan

There’s nothing better in genre romance than a well-written battle of wit, except perhaps when one character is an immovable object and the other an unstoppable force.

Here we have two people who are broken in different ways; one through relentless physical and emotional parental abuse, the other…well, basically, life under the patriarchy, in the form of a specific man.

Here’s the blurb:

She will not give up.

Three months ago, governess Serena Barton was let go from her position. Unable to find new work, she’s demanding compensation from the man who got her sacked: a petty, selfish, swinish duke. But it’s not the duke she fears. It’s his merciless man of business–the man known as the Wolf of Clermont. The formidable former pugilist has a black reputation for handling all the duke’s dirty business, and when the duke turns her case over to him, she doesn’t stand a chance. But she can’t stop trying–not with her entire future at stake.

He cannot give in…

Hugo Marshall is a man of ruthless ambition–a characteristic that has served him well, elevating the coal miner’s son to the right hand man of a duke. When his employer orders him to get rid of the pestering governess by fair means of foul, it’s just another day at the office. Unfortunately, fair means don’t work on Serena, and as he comes to know her, he discovers that he can’t bear to use foul ones. But everything he has worked for depends upon seeing her gone. He’ll have to choose between the life that he needs, and the woman he is coming to love…

I say often that Ms Milan consistently writes excellent novellas, because she manages to convey an ungodly amount of characterization, backstory and motivation, and build believable relationships between the characters, within the constraints of genre and short word count. This story is another example of this.

There’s something so very sad about Hugo’s ruthlessness, his way of dealing with trauma, and how it’s no match to his vulnerability in the face of Serena’s own vulnerability and intractable will.

Serena’s determination not to be silenced, not let herself be victimized further, breaks my heart every time I re-read this novella.

“Things won’t happen to me, I will happen to things.”

“I will not fail my child.”

“I did not say no”.

Then there’s her complex relationship with her sister Freddie (“perhaps God gave one sisters to teach one to love the inexplicable.”–that one hits me where I live).

There is so much yearning, almost too much for the page count, and the ending is perfect for the characters.

The postscript ties the novella to the Brothers Sinister series with yet another example of deft yet economical characterization, and has the same tone of somewhat melancholy sweetness.

“The Governess Affair” gets 8.75 out of 10, and my wholehearted recommendation as an entry point to Ms Milan’s writing.

2 Responses to ““The Governess Affair” by Courtney Milan”

  1. Jules Jones 01/10/2022 at 10:20 AM #

    This was one of the first Courtney Milan books I read, and I love it. I pretty much vacuumed up the entire series, which was impressive given the reading slump I was in at the time.

    • azteclady 01/10/2022 at 2:39 PM #

      It feels like salvation when we find a book or a series, or indeed an author, that we can read like that during a reading slump, doesn’t it?

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