Brontë Ellis lives in two worlds. In the first, he’s the abandoned child raised in an all-boys boarding school where he has no friends, no particular academic skills, and even fewer social skills. But, in his head, in his imagination, he’s the much maligned heroine of a gothic novel — like in his favorite novel, Jane Eyre — just waiting for the Byronian hero of his dreams to whisk him away to a mysterious manor where he can fulfill his fantasies. (Note: Bron is genderfluid and uses terms like governess and heroine to describe himself, while also using he/him pronouns. As such, I shall refer to Bron as he/him in this review.)
When Bron sees the advert for a position at Greenwood Manor to be the tutor and caretaker of a young girl, Bron can’t help but think it’s perfect. Why, it’s just like Jane, heading off to Thornfield Hall! However, Jane didn’t have wifi, an accepting Mr. Edwards who encourages and spoils his daughter at every turn, and a laptop where he can pirate movies to watch at night before bed. Jane also didn’t have a Mr. Darcy, the prodigal son who comes home to visit, a man as arrogant as his namesake and utterly disinterested in on Brontë Ellis. Or is he?
The more time Bron spends with Darcy, the more Bron feels as though there might be something there between them, a spark of kindred spirits. But Darcy is keeping secrets from him; in fact, it seems like everyone is! When the library catches on fire, Bron sees this for the chance it is, to find out the deep, dark family secret and bring it to light!
First and foremost in this book, I loathed Bron. The character feels unpleasant, shallow, unkind, selfish, and very much has main character energy (I know, I know, he is the main character of the book, but Bron takes it way too far). Frankly, I found him insufferable. Bron is always living in his own world, a world in which he is the poor and impoverished, long-suffering victim who can’t get into the school he wants because of his station and his class (not his grades or lack of tuition), who looks down on tourists who — like him — wander cobbled streets and take pictures of locations from their favorite films, and who loves to feel the breeze in his hair as he romps about on his very high horse. On his first meeting of Mr. Edwards and his daughter, Bron can’t help but notice the two don’t closely resemble each other the way he thinks parents and children ought, and so pointedly reflects that the Mr. Edwards’ daughter can’t possibly be related to him, she must be adopted.
He had a friend at his old school, St. Mary’s, and thought to put Harry into the same position as Jane Eyre’s best friend … despite the fact that Harry wasn’t interested in that role, any more than he was interested in being in a romantic relationship with Bron. When Harry’s parents pulled him out of the school, after pointing out the mildew and the dead rat on the stairs, among other sub par living conditions, Bron saw this as Harry betraying him and choosing to run away because Bron had kissed him as a confession of his feelings. Because yes, everything has to be about Bron.
When Bron discovers that the family he works for has family secrets that they’re daring to keep from him, he’s offended! When he discovers that Darcy, the gallant figure he wants to have fall in love with him, had a life prior — and lovers prior — he’s miffed, and then spends a great deal of time imagining Darcy and Giovanni together, their romance, their conversations, how they might touch one another, kiss one another, and how all that makes Bron feel. And it gets worse. Mr. Edward dies, and his loss takes a heavy toll on the family. Ada, the girl Bron tutors and babysits, has lost her father, the light of her life; her brother Darcy, the only other constant in her life, the only family she has left, goes from being indulgent and present to being an angry and sad ghost vanishing in the mornings and not returning until evening, as Darcy must now deal with the business of his father’s death, the business affairs, the house, the paperwork, and his own grief for having lost his father, his stability. And Bron’s upset that he’s being ignored. He then uses that as impetus to snoop in Darcy’s room to find a missing photo album — someone else’s photo album — and read Mr. Edward’s private final letter to his son and the will. Because in the end, it’s all about Bron.
Yes, this is simplifying it, but it’s the essence of the situation. Bron feels like he has no sympathy for other people and no empathy for anyone but himself, as is made even more clear when, upon learning Darcy has been disinherited by his father — the man who just died — his first, giddy thought is: Now he’s just like me!
To his credit, when Bron hears that Giovanni — during his relationship with Darcy — outed him to their friend group, and then to Darcy’s father, Bron takes a moment to be offended on Darcy’s behalf, calling out that sort of behavior for the vileness it is. It feels like one of the rare times where Bron thinks about someone else’s feelings, and stood out because of that.
That’s not to say the book isn’t without some merit. The writing is its strong suit. The author has written this book in a style reminiscent of Jane Eyre or Northanger Abby and keeps it consistent through the whole book. On the whole, the book is easy to read with a languid pace, however, every single character feels like they have the same voice. They speak with the same cadence, the same grand deliveries, and during some conversations, I found it hard to decipher who was talking without tags, as they all sounded exactly the same to me.
While, for me, this book is a pass, that’s purely due to my absolute dislike as Bron as a person. I was caught enough by the book that I will be keeping an eye out for more from this author, but this book in particular for me is a pass, as I found Bron an unpleasant character to have to spend time with and the plot gives him no growth or character development. It just reinforces all of his bad traits and none of his very few good ones.