From the back of the book:
When Kate Malvern, unable to find another post as governess because of her youthful appearance and vivacity, is swept off to Staplewood by her rich aunt Minerva, she is delighted and grateful.
But, once in the country, Kate discovers surprising reasons for Minerva’s generosity – including the need to keep her handsome but moody cousin Torquil out of the sullens.
Constrained by the uneasy atmosphere, Kate welcomes an unexpected visit from cousin Philip – for whom she forms a decided partiality…
A couple of months ago, one of the used bookstores by me was shutting down. Sad! But it had all of it’s books on sale, and I was able to pick up three of Heyer’s books for 50 cents each; this was one of them. I don’t often see them available to buy used, so always pick them all up when I can and read them when I need a quick Heyer fix. I am now half-way through her regency romances. I don’t know if I’m excited for this fact or disappointed that I only have half left to go.
Cousin Kate tries very hard to be a gothic novel. It has some elements – the leading female being whisked away to a large manor that has it’s many secrets, a mad relative, being locked in a bedroom in the middle of the night, mysterious people being seen in the gardens in the middle of the night… but what it lacked was the atmosphere of a gothic novel. A good one would have the atmosphere positively permeating through the book… this one felt pastel-coloured and safe.
So if one doesn’t pay attention to the fact that this is trying to be gothic, it’s a fun romp of a novel… however, if one wants the gothic, this probably isn’t the best choice for you.
The main character, Kate, is quite likeable, as is Philip, our lovely hero. What I like most about Kate is that in the situation she has found herself, she remains very capable and doesn’t go into fits at the slight sense that something unusual is happening. She is able to handle most of her mad cousin’s mood swings, and is able to hold her own against her aunt, who turns out to be not as kind and benevolent as she originally seemed.
I really enjoyed the fact that we got to see more of the madness up close and personal – with my experience of the mad relative (mainly only Jane Eyre actually, now that I think about it) is someone locked away who only comes up in the middle of the night, or in some surreal kind of way. In Cousin Kate we get to see first-hand a character’s descent into madness… in every way from seemingly multiple personalities, to slaughtering of innocent animals, to harming other people… it was fascinating. There was no doubt from the beginning that this was all performed by the angelically beautiful Torquil, so the mystery that surrounds a gothic novel was also not really that present in the novel.
However – I can say that the ending did surprise me. Oh, not the happy romance part of it, but what happens to Kate’s relations. I didn’t see that coming at all.
The Bottom Line
Enjoyable if you start out not expecting a gothic novel. Like most of Heyer’s other novels, this is a quick read and a lot of fun. Definitely recommended.