Shanna Swendson is the author of the popular adult romantic fantasy series, Enchanted, Inc. Rebel Mechanics is her first novel for young adults. She lives in Irving, Texas.
Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson
A sixteen-year-old governess becomes a spy in this alternative U.S. history where the British control with magic and the colonists rebel by inventing.
It’s 1888, and sixteen-year-old Verity Newton lands a job in New York as a governess to a wealthy leading family—but she quickly learns that the family has big secrets. Magisters have always ruled the colonies, but now an underground society of mechanics and engineers are developing non-magical sources of power via steam engines that they hope will help them gain freedom from British rule. The family Verity works for is magister—but it seems like the children's young guardian uncle is sympathetic to the rebel cause. As Verity falls for a charming rebel inventor and agrees to become a spy, she also becomes more and more enmeshed in the magister family’s life. She soon realizes she’s uniquely positioned to advance the cause—but to do so, she’ll have to reveal her own dangerous secret.
The Guest Post - On Governesses in the 19th Century
Ever since I was about ten or eleven and read a condensed "children's" version of Jane Eyre, I've loved stories about governesses, and I don't seem to be alone, as this is a popular literary trope. You see it throughout romance novels and children's books like Mary Poppins (though I suppose Mary was technically considered a nanny rather than a governess, since she didn't seem to teach lessons).
Why are governess stories so popular? It may have something to do with the constraints on women during the Victorian era. A well-born young woman didn't have a lot of career options. She was usually expected to marry well, and that was about it. If a woman didn't marry, and if she didn't have family money to support her, she was fairly limited in what she could do to support herself. Being a governess was one of the few acceptable ways for a genteel young lady to maintain some form of social status and earn a living. In a novel, this allows a heroine to come about as close as possible for that era to being an independent career girl, and yet she's moving in high social circles that may bring her around movers and shakers.
I'm sure that the job wasn't nearly as romantic in real life as it is in books. There wouldn't have been too many mad wives to find in the attic, ghosts to fight off, secret schemes to uncover, or sexy widowed or bachelor employers to fall in love with. A governess wasn't strictly a servant, so she wouldn't have associated with the servants belowstairs, but she wasn't a member of the household or a peer to her employers. That in-between status must have been very lonely, with only the children for companionship. If a governess wanted to get married, she likely wouldn't have had a lot of options for meeting men, and getting married would mean losing her position. The position could also be rather precarious, as being dismissed could make it difficult to find another job, and she could be dismissed for resisting her employer's advances or for being too attractive for her employer's wife's comfort, and there weren't any sexual harassment lawsuits in those days.
That in-between status is good material for stories. In Rebel Mechanics, my heroine Verity finds herself caught in between a lot of different things -- in between the upper and lower classes and between the magical magisters and the Rebel Mechanics. Being in-between, not servant, not family, in her job fits right in with that. She's in an unusual household in that she is treated like a friend and family member, but she still worries about how precarious her position is, if her activities might put her job at risk, and she knows that she's not truly a family member. Is she really a friend? She'll have to figure that out ...