This book has EVERYTHING.
There is simply no other author doing what Courtney Milan is doing. She wears her heart and her mind on her sleeve, and in doing so, my heart and mind are engaged to their fullest capacity when devouring her stories. The amount of romantic passion, intellectual rigor, and political zeal that she includes in her characterization is astounding, and even more so because as overbearing as any one of these can be in less skilled hands, in her texts the complement of the three together gives her protagonists life. In a genre of go-to archetypes, Milan’s romantic leads transcend the page. Their actions flow naturally from their characterization, and they drive the plot forward, not the other way around.
Frederica “Free” Marshall, the titular Suffragette and editrix-in-chief of the Women’s Free Press, is a complete spitfire and I am enamored with her. Intelligent, outspoken, and brave, Free cleverly and unabashedly takes on adversity, demanding respect not just with her words, but with her strength of mind and character. Her particular adversary is James Delacey, a sniveling, sad little man who has it out for Free because she had the audacity to reject his offer to take him on as a mistress, but who unfortunately is posed to inherit the title of Viscount Claridge. He wants first to destroy the reputation of her passion project, and then to personally break her. He’s an awful sh*t of a human being, not only because he’s an exceptional misogynist even in a time when that was the status quo, but also because he has other people do all of his dirty work for him. I have a particular hate-on for cowardly villains, so he really pushed all of my buttons.
Good thing there’s Edward Clark. An absolute scoundrel with whom I’m also deeply infatuated, he’s also — unbeknown to most — the elder brother of James Delacey, and could inherit the title if only he wanted it. He’s back in England after an extended period of being banished by his family to France, and he wants revenge against his snitty little brother (reason #1 I love him.) Realizing that revenge is best served cold, Edward (never Ned) takes time to collect intel, plays nice, and eventually learns of James’ plans against Free. Having met Free and been utterly bewitched by her, he convinces her to team up with him and assist in his revenge, as it would only benefit her as well. Now, I’m GREATLY downplaying that initial conversation between the two, where they appraise each other and determine the terms of the agreement, because their tête-à-tête is hilarious and clever and builds a fantastic foundation for their relationship. It establishes them immediately as each others’ equals and realistically introduces their attraction; they’re clearly affected by each other, but as thinking people, they flirt with their mental prowess more than with their bodies.
In addition to this fantastic romantic storyline, there is a lovely romantic B-plot featuring Amanda, one of Free’s friends and fellow contributors to the Women’s Free Press. To reveal her paramour borders on a spoiler, but their story is an appropriate contribution to a running theme of “By Women, About Women, For Women.”
With so many other thoughtful, beautiful reviews about this book, mine won’t be the one that convinces any remaining skeptics to read this book. But I’ll attempt it anyway: READ COURTNEY MILAN. SHE IS REVOLUTIONIZING HISTORICAL ROMANCE. DON’T GET LEFT BEHIND.