“Fear is a bitter vile enemy – it will rob you of today’s joys and steal your strength to fight for your purpose.”
– Elizabeth Abbott, “The Governess of Penwythe Hall”
Sarah E. Ladd tipped her hat to the series “Poldark.” She picked the location of the Masterpiece drama as the main destination for characters in her latest series, the Cornwall Novels.
Cornwall’s moody and dramatic landscape added to the performances in the Poldark series shown from 2015-2019 on PBS. Those working on filming had to adjust to accommodate the sun and weather. The characters had pivotal moments on the beach, on the tops of cliffs or in caves. When describing Poldark, I’d say there’s some swashbuckling, smuggling, poaching, revenge-seeking, and romance.
Some of those ingredients are in this first book, “The Governess of Penwythe Hall,” an easy read with chapters the perfect length. I liked that she left readers with a cliff-hanger to end each chapter that made me keep going. I fairly devoured that book! I looked up at the clock when I finished it and it was 1 a.m. Monday.
Fear seemed to have overshadow main character, Cordelia Greythorne (Delia). She tried to move on from her past that she left behind in Cornwall. The ghosts from her past wouldn’t let her. She had evidence of dealing with PTSD for sure, but she tried to mask it in duty to others and to propriety. Her husband Robert died and his family blamed her, but we learn they are smugglers. They don’t accept their role in his death. The opening scene between Delia and her mother-in-law, Ada Greythorne, contained a threat to never return. Delia took the position of governess for the children of Randall Twethewey of Easten Park in Yorkshire. (I did puzzle over how to say the last name, Twethewey. I decided that it might be like “Trethewey” – or “TREH-thoo-wee.”) She worked companionably with a tutor, Hugh Simon, to care for and educate the five children.
Before he died, Randall told Delia and Hugh he was providing for them to continue his children’s education. He was changing his will to have the children go to his brother, Jac, in Cornwall. I was like “Great. Cornwall.” It’s the place Delia shouldn’t return to and the place where she lost her husband and also her daughter, Maria. Delia gave her word that she would go with the children though. Her attitude and description reminded me of Maria from Sound of Music, but with waaaay more secrets and fears and no singing. (I could be really over-reaching.) Delia loved the children as a mother would. The children see her as the authority in their lives. But her past haunted her and eventually caught up with her. Fear continued to steal her peace. She eventually was driven to re-evaluate her stance of staying with the children. Association with her could prove dangerous for anyone connected to her.
Jac Twethewey was the younger brother not the oldest when his uncle gave him Penwythe Hall over his brother Randall. If you’ve seen “Poldark” then you might notice the similarity between “Trenwith” and “Penwythe.” Jac and his older brother had a falling out. His Aunt Charlotte Angrove tried to bring the two together again, but they never mended fences.
Jac’s focus has been on reviving the orchards on the estate and on adding a cider mill as a way to build revenue. He hadn’t thought of his brother or kept tabs on the children past their last fight. He was surprised when the children showed up at Penwythe, not knowing his brother had died. Randall’s solicitor, Edwin Steerhead, seemed to enjoy being the bearer of bad news. The solicitor dropped everyone off and quickly departed. Steerhead had been there for the arguments between the brothers. Hugh Simon had as well. From the beginning, the tutor challenged Jac and was generally unpleasant. Delia became the mediator between the children and their uncle. She had the most influence over them. In the end, he learned how much he and the children depended on her.
With each passing chapter, I kept asking what IT was. What in the world did Delia have that the Greythornes demanded? I had the thought that maybe Delia really had no idea. The Greythornes were a powerful family of smugglers, or free traders, and Delia lost her husband because of their activities. She didn’t want to become like them. Thomas Greythorne, her brother-in-law, showed up at the Twethewey’s Frost Ball and again wanted to know where “it” was. I finally said aloud, “Yes, but what is IT! Speak plainly, man!”
Ladd has made me a mystery lover because of her great storytelling. She’s very good at giving hints along the way that make me start my investigation as I read like I’m a police detective. I know when a character is hiding something, and sometimes find that I’m right but what I learn isn’t always what I expect. I liked the pace of the novel and that it does work as a stand-alone so there’s no cliff-hanger at the end. I look forward to reading book 2 of the Cornwall novels that I received in a giveaway around November, “The Thief of Lanwyn Manor.”