The Governess of Greenmere
As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews on this blog, I’ve become a dedicated fan of author Paul Leone ever since I read his Alternate History triptych In and Out of the Reich, recently published by Sea Lion Press and reviewed on this very blog earlier this year. It was a fantastically written triptych of tales about life in a Nazi-Occupied Europe, and managed the incredible feat of breathing life into a stale, moribund and deeply cliched Alternate History scenario. The writing was fresh, engaging and highly imaginative, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I vowed to keep an eye out for his fiction, and as such was thrilled to be sent a review copy of his initial foray into the Occult Detective genre, the superb short story collection The Mysteries of Zillah Harvey. Those stories were some of the best Occult Detective stories I’d read in the genre in a long time, equal to the greats of the modern genre like Josh Reynolds and William Meikle, and demonstrated conclusively to me that Leone was a highly talented author and definitely a writer to watch. I let him know that I was eager to read and review anything else he might publish, and was therefore delighted to recently be sent a copy of his upcoming novella The Governess of Greenmere.
Set in the same universe as the Zillah Harvey stories, though not dependent on them, this new tale focuses on the character of Elise Cooper, the titular Governess of Greenmere. A young orphan attempting to rise in the world by acting as a governess to the children of aristocratic and upper-class families, the novella opens with Elise meeting with the mysterious and rather forthright Miss Worner; Elise hopes to secure the position of governess to the household of Lord Barchester, with responsibility for the aristocrat’s young son, Bartholomew. After an intense and rather baffling interview, she is hired for the position and travels to Greenemere House to begin her duties, nestled away in an isolated and heavily rustic corner of the fictional county of Barsetshire. From her first encounter with the house and its surroundings, Elise seems to have some strange connection with it in some indefinable manner; there’s a particularly intense and uneasy attraction to the ring of Hawthorn trees atop a nearby hillock. What is the connection between Elise, her dreams and this place? Why do so many things seem eerily familiar to her, despite never having come to the house before? And just who is the stranger known as Ambrose Scripps, who is certainly not from Barsetshire? These questions, and many more, plague Elise as she begins her duty with the family, only to find herself slowly becoming embroiled in a conspiracy that stretches back into the mists of time and mythology. Armed only with a surprising new power and a mysterious and powerful companion, Elise must venture into a shadowy otherworld and confront an ancient evil.
Leone has clearly done his research into British mythology, and the legends that have built up around concepts like Arthur, Merlin, the Round Table as well as other lesser-known elements of folklore and tradition associated with them. This is very clearly not the product of someone who has briefly skimmed through some Wikipedia articles before trying to write the narrative; this has clearly benefitted from intensive reading and research, meaning that we get a story that is suffused in an ethereal and mythical atmosphere that effortlessly draws the reader in. As such, Leone is able to evoke this strange, wraithlike world where the modern day (or at least the cusp of the 20th Century) is blended with the mythology of the ancient past, as well as some fantastic usage of symbolism and mythological elements. It all results in a deftly-paced and highly engaging mystery thriller, one where Leone slowly but surely building up the tension and leaving subtle clues that the reader deciphers at the same time as Elise. He’s highly adept at keeping you on your toes and trying to put the clues together to figure out the truth of Elise’s employment, as well as the secrets of Greenmere House and its secretive inhabitants. In addition, Leone once again demonstrates his ability to effortlessly undertake world-building as the story progresses that creates a coherent, vibrant and endlessly fascinating shadow world, utilising mythological creatures and characters to populate this shadowy, mythological world to great effect. There’s even some great action sequences at the end of the novella which tie in nicely to genuinely epic and surprising ending, the latter providing a huge amount of potential for future sequels.
The Governess of Greenmere has a compulsive quality to it, the result of being so elegantly plotted and deftly characterised that you can’t stop reading it, and I devoured it in only a few reading sessions. There’s a joyful energy to the overarching narrative, even as Leone propels us into a complex and mysterious story that twists and turns in delightfully unexpected manners, populated by engaging and uniquely-imagined characters living in this rich and luxuriously imagined world fully realised by Leone. Not only is The Governess of Greenmere a thrilling adventure that deftly blends fantasy and mythology together, it’s also the perfect vehicle to get younger readers interested in elements of British mythology that are perhaps not as well-known as they ought to be given the depth and variety of the original material. The Governess of Greenemere is a must-read for fantasy genre fans, as well as anyone with any interest in the rich history of British mythology that Leone so expertly and lovingly evokes.
The Governess of Greenmere