There are certain things you should expect from a gothic novel -- a dark and taciturn main character, a mysterious death(s) of some sort, a city that is known for its eccentricity, the almost prerequisite Victorian setting, a house with stone carvings/sculptures of gargoyles or some other equally creepy creature, an insane character or two, and a paranormal subplot centered usually on ghosts. The Mistress of Trevelyan has them all! This novel screams gothic from the moment you read the first page. I like gothic stories, and having read His Dark Desires, which is the second part of this quasi-series, I had looked forward to reading Benedict Trevelyan's story. However, this one isn't as engaging as His Dark Desires and the gothic elements, while well written, is a little overdone in that every aspect of the story seems to set the prerequisite tones of a gothic. The year is 1873 in San Francisco. Former laundress and intellectual Ann Lovell lands a job as governess to two young boys at the Trevelyan Manor. There is a great deal of mystery surrounding the house centering on the strange death of the mistress of Trevelyan. Did she commit suicide or did her husband, Benedict Trevelyan, kill her? There is a great deal of tension between Ann and Benedict from the moment they meet, and while she falls in love with her master and tries to bring happiness into his haunted children's lives, she also becomes involved in a great deal of intrigue and threats. There are various twists throughout the novel.
I like the first-person narrative and historical tone of the novel. I also like the almost palpable sexual tension between the main characters. The aftermath of Mrs. Trevelyan's mysterious death and how the children behave set the perfect haunting tone to the novel. Those things are by far the best parts of the novel and my heart went out to the young characters. As mentioned earlier, the gothic atmosphere is definitely in full swing here, and there's no mistaking the genre of this novel. I could have done without the constant reminder of the same though. The gothic aspects are definitely better done in His Dark Desires. Anyway, Ann is a good heroine in that she tries to improve her station in life by getting a respectable job and really caring for the children. I like how she tells the arrogant butler off. Those are the funniest parts in the novel. Benedict is dark and mysterious and his sex appeal comes to life in the pages. I liked him almost as much as I liked Stephen Trevelyan... almost. They mystery aspect of the novel is well written and it complemented the overall eerie tone of the novel. All in all, The Mistress of Trevelyan is romantic gothic through and through and I enjoyed it very much in spite of the fact that the story lags a bit toward the middle. His Dark Desires is a better effort though, which could only attest to Jennifer St. Giles's growth as an author. I look forward to reading her future efforts.