Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Book review: The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

Goodreads summary: “Miss Minerva Lane is a quiet, bespectacled wallflower, and she wants to keep it that way. After all, the last time she was the center of attention, it ended badly–so badly that she changed her name to escape her scandalous past. Wallflowers may not be the prettiest of blooms, but at least they don’t get trampled. So when a handsome duke comes to town, the last thing she wants is his attention.

But that is precisely what she gets.

Because Robert Blaisdell, the Duke of Clermont, is not fooled. When Minnie figures out what he’s up to, he realizes there is more to than her spectacles and her quiet ways. And he’s determined to lay her every secret bare before she can discover his. But this time, one shy miss may prove to be more than his match…”

Listen: I raved about Milan not that long ago, and in that review, I touched upon my admiration of her skill with writing character psychology in a believable way. It’s one thing that elevates her romances above others, because a very florid and purple romance can be great fun indeed, but to so expertly blend fun and reality is an uncommon trait in the genre, IMO. Another thing I love about Milan is how almost every book bends (or breaks) convention in some way, but it’s never gauche or out of place; these characters and these current events could surely be real. This was particularly evident in Unclaimed, with its virgin male hero and rather experienced heroine — not to mention the hero’s whole manifesto about respecting women. The Duchess War has, for its part: two virgin leads, an accused atheist genetic theorist, a pro-union and workers’ rights sentiment, and actual PTSD/social anxiety disorder. From this, you could surmise correctly that there is a lot of plot here that isn’t just romance, and that’s what makes it so cool; in the context of everything else, the romance is still, well, romantic, and the leads are still very charming and charismatic together.

I don’t want to give too much away regarding the first love scene, other than that it’s utterly unique, very brave, and above all, completely real. For Milan not being one of those authors whose virgin heroine gushes the River Thames on her first outing, I am utterly appreciative.

I recall that not everyone was as thrilled about The Duchess War as I was; they didn’t think it was romantic enough or that the two leads had enough chemistry. This must be one of those complete YMMV situations, because I am really growing to love a romance that seems to be less about cosmic attractions defined by fate alone and more about two characters loving each other in a way that is borne out of respect. Needless to say, the latter is exactly what happened here, and I loved the book all the more for it. Now I am wrestling with whether I should get going reading the next two in the Brothers Sinister series — I would devour them, I fear — before the fourth comes out, or whether I should wait and space out my Milan and save them. Fortunately my to-read pile is large enough to maintain a modicum of self-control!

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