Another day, another Courtney Milan novel. My library can be a little slow in stocking Milan’s latest novels, and then sometimes I forget about them. So, The Countess Conspiracy was published back in 2013, but I’m only getting to it now.
The story involves Violet Waterfield, Countess of Cambury and Sebastian Malheur, well-known rake. Violet is a closet scientist, obsessed with plants and their genes, in a time where many dislike Darwin, dislike discussing procreation in public, and where women scientists are nonexistent. Violet’s old childhood friend, the rakish Sebastian Malheur is Violet’s public persona: giving her talks and publishing her papers under his name. They are incredibly close and have been for year, but they have never come close to turning the relationship into anything more than platonic. Sebastian has been in love with Violet since they were kids, but she believes herself to be unlovable. Violet is struggling with the after effects of the relationship with her late husband, after effects that prevent her from getting close to anyone.
I have mixed feelings about this book. I appreciated that Violet is not your typical romance heroine. She’s smart, unconventional, and very modern [and bitter] in her view of women in her society: “You can do a great deal if you marry. Just make sure your grandmother negotiates an excellent settlement, hope your husband dies, and then find someone else to claim the credit for what you want to accomplish.”
Violet also struggles with some severe self-esteem problems stemming primarily from her late marriage and even her relationship with her father. It doesn’t help that she is born a scientist in a world that has only one acceptable role for women. It’s heavy stuff, and her feelings are depressingly realistic.
-“Violet had always known that she was fundamentally unlovable. That she had to pretend to have any hope of fitting in.”
-“I keep everything hidden because there’s nothing about my true self that anyone likes.”
-“You learn not to hope when someone picks you up. Because no matter how high their anticipation runs upon starting, you know what will happen in the end: They’ll throw you away in disgust.”
So, there were great parts of this book that were both intriguing and relatable. However, there was always something that kept me from diving in headfirst. ***SPOILERS*** I didn’t really understand why Sebastian loved Violet. Sure, they’re both very smart, but it was just a given that he’d loved her since he was a kid. She’s pushed him away for years and it doesn’t make any difference. I did love the fact that Sebastian patiently waited until Violet felt comfortable enough to make a move on him. In reality, that is incredibly romantic, but in this novel, it left me wanting more evidence of their love for each other. Violet runs away at any hint of a touch and Sebastian rarely shows any overt passion towards her.
Also, there’s something, I think in the telling, that felt too unrealistic and kept bringing me out of the story. I’m not sure if I just needed more detail or if it was something else. For instance, I had a hard time buying the mother and her “public” and “private” rules. Also, nineteen miscarriages? I realize that Milan needed something extreme for Violet to go through in order to explain her struggles, but I needed more details about Violet’s marriage for me to accept something so drastic.
There were some great parts to this book, but it doesn’t live up to my favorite Milan novels.
You can find all of my other reviews here.