“For years I could not recall the day without a smoldering coal of remorse burning within me. I tried to bury the memory deep in the dark places of my mind, but now and again something would evoke it – a public house placard, a column of figures, a finely dressed gentleman – and I would wince as the memory appeared and then scuttled away, like a silverfish under the door…” p. 7
The voice is Olivia Keene, remembering a childhood incident with her alcoholic father in the prologue of Julie Klassen’s historical The Silent Governess. The actual story (told in third person) begins 12 years later, in 1815, when the now-adult Olivia comes home from work to find that same father in a drunken rage with his hands around her mother’s throat. Olivia hits him on the back of the head with a fire iron; he falls over unconscious and, fearful that she’s killed him, she flees toward a village where her mother has friends.
Before she arrives, however, she wanders onto Brightwell Manor, overhears a confidential conversation, is arrested for trespassing, and held captive to ensure that her knowledge goes no further. There she is eventually installed as a governess, wins the hearts of the household, uses her math prowess to straighten out the manor’s books and her wits to bring to light family scandals. (A plot twist in this book that was also in Klassen’s book Lady of Milkweed Manor is a baby secretly taken from a poor mother at birth and given to a set of wealthy parents to raise. Klassen likes that, I guess.) Of course, all the while our beautiful heroine is winning the heart of the somber heir-apparent, Edward.
Olivia is a complex, smart, though vulnerable heroine. Edward has his faults, though we readily forgive them. The father characters, Simon Keene and Oliver Brightwell, have good and bad qualities, which our leading man and lady struggle to come to terms with. Family members like Judith and Felix add interest with their selfish, sly and sometimes less than honorable actions.