It's 1905, and Rosalind Hawkins, her father recently dead after losing all their money in ill-advised investing, needs to give up her pursuit of a university degree and a scholarly career, and find paying work. When an offer arrives of a position as a governess for two bright children in San Francisco, it seems like a Godsend. She's soon on the train from Chicago to San Francisco.
Rose arrives to find that her employer, Jason Cameron, is extremely wealthy, as well as quite eccentric, and the position is rather different than she anticipated. Specifically, there are no children, and Mr. Cameron wants her to read to him through a speaking tube. Her scholarly background is important because he wants her to read books in foreign and classical languages, and translate them for him.
They are all books of alchemy and magic.
The servants in the household, except Cameron's somewhat obnoxious secretary, are amazingly invisible and silent; she never sees them, but her bath is drawn, her meals arrive, always hot when she wants them, and her clothes are laid out for her. What's going on?
This is an entertaining take on Beauty and the Beast, set in the months leading up to the great San Francisco earthquake. The villains, both Jason's secretary, Paul, and his principal rival and nemesis, Simon, are rather too one-dimensional and even cartoonish, while Rose is, perhaps, a little too perfect, with her mastery of so many languages, and how quickly she picks up one what's going on. She's likable and entertaining, though, and Jason himself has a few more layers of complexity. We also get a glimpse of the seamier side of San Francisco life, following Paul on his depredations, and the terror of the earthquake itself.
Overall, an entertaining and fun read, if not very deep or complex.
I borrowed this book from a friend.