I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Sara is an extremely shy individual working as a governess with three of her friends at a school they run. Her father was the local pastor in their small town and her mother constantly berated her about her actions and appearance. As a consequence of all this mental and at times physical abuse, Sara frequently and easily has panic attacks. Whenever she meets someone new or is challenged in a conversation "ants start climbing up her throat" and a "noose" tightens around her neck. This has lead to Sara not speaking her mind and being generally ignored. When Sara first stares into the ice blue eyes of the stranger in town, she feels a desire to be bold for the first time. Nathan couldn't be more different from Sara; he was a very loquacious politician and reveled in all the luxuries and bribes his position afforded him. After a certain bribe is offered to him, Nathan has a self-reflective moment, is disgusted by what he sees, and decides to leave politicking for time in the country.
Ellie Macdonald is a fairly new author and this was the first book by her I have ever read. The beginning and for most of the middle, I found her writing to be thick and luxurious with dollops of humor here and there; she brought to mind shades of how Susan Johnson writes her main characters. This is an extremely character driven story, there is not much happening outside of Sara and Nathan getting to know one another. I like character centric stories, so personally, this was not a problem. Although, around the 65% mark the pace did slow down as the story became over indulgent on its focus of Sara's taught self-loathing.
This started off quite strong as Sara and Nathan were both intriguing. Sara is a highly sympathetic character as her outward actions portray a weak and immensely biddable person but her thoughts convey to the reader a spirited woman wanting to break free. Nathan is all that is dark, broody, and mysterious at the start but while Sara evolved throughout the story, I never felt that Nathan was completely flushed out. Together, they work well as Nathan pushes Sara to express how she feels and in fact blatantly tells her not to let him push her around, even when he doesn't realize he is doing it. I think this story worked the best when we first see the push/pull between Sara and Nathan as they are drawn to each other and then Nathan building Sara up during their week alone together that Sara precipitated by asking Nathan for an adventure.
It is after this week is over that things started to feel rushed as everything wraps up far too quickly. If a story is going to be solely focusing on two characters and their relationship, then those characters have to be incredibly flushed out and like I said, this never happened with Nathan. Nathan never quite breaks away from being mysterious, his political career is never really resolved, and though it is often brought up how he loved his grandma and wants to make her proud, we never gain a true understanding of their relationship. Sara and Nathan's parting and eventual coming together never felt climatic, just abrupt. It was almost like the author had months to write the first half and then one day to write the ending. There is also a bit of a cliff hanger ending but as it has nothing to do with Sara and Nathan but the couple that will be the stars of the next book in the series, it's not a big deal.
The Governess Saga: Sara is a good read with commendable writing and characters you find yourself invested in, the rushed ending just steals away a bit of that magic, though. Ellie Macdonald's enticing writing and enjoyable interaction between Sara and Nathan make her an author I will be keeping my eye on and if you like character driven stories, I would suggest you do the same.