Hello again, SVH enthusiasts. I bring you, as promised, another installment of the adventures of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. This go around is a trilogy where the girls are au pairs for French royalty, because that is definitely a thing that happens to high school juniors with absolutely no qualifications. Is there criminal intrigue? Yes. Does someone stick their tongue down a prince’s throat? Of course. Does the ghostwriter get to flex their high school French muscles and throw out some basic phrases? You betcha. Book one of three is Once Upon A Time. Spoilers to follow…
Jess and Liz are headed off to France for the summer. Jessica Wakefield actually did work for once, and applied for a position to be an au pair for Prince Nicholas and Princess Catherine de Sainte-Marie, in the South of France. They said, no, you are way too young, and she’s like, I have a twin sister, our combined age is 32, and somehow that worked. In any case, Lila throws the twins a going-away party, which is our only chance to see Lila. Elizabeth is all bereft about leaving Todd for this killer gig that she is not at all excited about (are they even getting paid?), but then Todd drops a bomb and breaks up with her. He thinks they should set each other loose for the summer, and reevaluate their relationship in the fall when she returns. Elizabeth does recall that she cheated on him with Joey Mason, but damned if I know who Joey Mason is, likely one of those boys that shows up in the trilogies of the second half of the series, to give the twins something to do before they return to Todd and sometimes Ken. Whatever, Elizabeth is now twice bereft.
That doesn’t, however, stop her from having a dream on the plane about running into a handsome man among the trees or something. But what does it mean?
When they arrive in France, spoiler alert, Jessica’s grasp on the language isn’t great, despite having been a junior in Ms. Dalton’s French class for like a solid decade at this point. (I actually looked this up: the series started in 1984, and this book was published in 1997, which means the twins have been juniors for 13 years.) They get on the train and meet: the Countess Doloria di Rimini and her daughter Antonia, who are extremely haughty and who are mistakenly placed in –le gasp– second class. The twins also meet Louis Landeau and his son Jacques, who charm the hell out of Jessica on the train while Liz naps. Louis is the Duke of Norveaux (or is he?). Jessica and Jacques are smitten with one another, to the point where Jacques gives Jess a parting gift of a big-ass emerald necklace. He promises it is only fake, but that they’ll meet again, and he’ll replace it with a real emerald. Yo, a duke’s son or no, what fucking teenager is going around carrying big-ass emerald necklaces? Jessica doesn’t think this through, but as the twins get off at their stop, there’s a big to-do when the Countess di Rimini can’t find her family jewels and accuses everyone of theft and/or incompetency. But what does it mean?
Also, there’s a whole thing where Jess is all up in arms because she’s being treated as the help. (I really don’t think she’s researched this au pair position thoroughly.) They have to sleep in the maid’s quarters, gasp gasp frown. Liz is more on board with the fact that it’s quaint and historical. Jess is mostly just pissed her room doesn’t have a closet.
Also also, the Countess and her daughter Antonia are also staying at the castle because I guess the Countess is trying to hook up her son with the teenage prince. This isn’t particularly important now, but probably later.
At the castle, the girls get introduced to their charges: bratty Claudine, Manon the toddler, and Pierre, who frequently just runs off. They meet the actual crowned Prince and Princess, who seem surprisingly chill and very good at English, and also Anna, who is somehow in charge of something without given a specific job title. On the girls’ first full day, Pierre immediately runs into the big dramatic hedge maze that is recommended to be off-limits because people get hella lost. Elizabeth chases after him and sees a prince sword-fighting a dummy by himself. The prince, Laurent, catches a glimpse of Elizabeth as she runs away, and realizes she’s the girl from his dream. Oh, I think he also had a dream about her, too. I kind of glazed over the narrative portions by Laurent (poor little rich prince) and Jacques (con man with heart of gold?).
In any case, when Liz gets back with Pierre, she goes ballistic on Jessica, accusing her of being lazy, and they end up splitting their duties into shifts. Which, I feel like that’s the sort of thing you need to okay with the bosses? This a plan masterminded by two teenage girls who speak a modicum of stilted textbook French and have absolutely no child care experience*. Thusly, Jessica is late showing up for her shift, and Elizabeth goes on a vengeful stroll through the hedge maze, contemplating all her life choices, before eventually reaching a state of peace and reasonable gratitude. No, I’m kidding, she gets lost, it starts raining, she is convinced she’s gonna die.
But lo! She comes upon a cottage, and there is Laurent, rescuing this soaking wet girl by throwing towels over her and not offering her a damn change of clothes. I guess this is his hiding-out cottage, because being a prince is hard, you guys. Even he can’t navigate the maze at night, so naturally Elizabeth has to stay, and naturally they spend the whole night talking by the fire. He makes her cheese omelettes. They are both smitten. Todd who?
(Although Todd did send a letter Elizabeth’s way – Jessica got to it first and burned it.)
A night lost without contact means Jessica is freaking out and is convinced Elizabeth’s bleeding in a ditch. I call foul. The twins famously have twin-sense when the other is in mortal danger, which is like every other week, so sounds more like Jessica is just coping with some guilt-fueled anxiety. Elizabeth comes back, the two apologize and hug, and Jessica is ecstatic about Liz’s new royal love life, vowing to never tell Liz about her boring boyfriend writing her a boring letter which Jess burned unread. I disagree with Jessica Wakefield on many things, but we have the same opinions regarding Todd Wilkins.
Jessica has a chat at the dinner table with the confusingly employed Anna, and casually asks her what she knows about the son of the duke of Norveaux. Absolutely nothing, as it turns out, because there is no Norveaux. Jessica is heartbroken, because she thinks it means Jacques is a rogue all around. But what does it mean?
Then later, Elizabeth sneaks off to have a midnight horseback ride with Laurent, who is ignoring his princely duties and skipping a ball. Jessica goes back to her room vaguely incensed with Elizabeth, who has disappeared yet again without warning or explanation, only to be attacked and pulled into the shadows…
…by Jacques, who snuck into the castle through the underground passageways. He claims he didn’t want the de Sainte-Maries to know he was there because they’d never let him and Jessica be alone together. Jessica does not think any of this is suspicious at all, and she and Jacques make out in a fade to black.
*Pretty sure they DO have some childcare experience. Elizabeth references a miniseries where she was a camp counselor, but laments that she was terrible at it. And I think she’s baby-sat Mr. Collins’s kid before. I still would not hire them.