It was hard to ignore the fact that Courtney Milan was coming out with a new novel–highly anticipated by Cannonball Readers everywhere. What was even more difficult, however, was getting a copy from my library. I got on the waitlist as soon as the book appeared in the catalog and waited patiently for months and months, until, finally! Yea, now I can read the book that everyone else gushed over months ago!
I was a little concerned when I picked up The Suffragette Scandal (2014) by Courtney Milan because even though I admire Milan, I have gotten frustrated by some of her books in the past–some of her books that everyone else has loved. I don’t want to be a picky outlier. I want to be impressed, entranced, and transported to a world where I believe in the “happily ever after” no matter how unrealistic it is. Fortunately, for my peace of mind and reading experience, I really enjoyed The Suffragette Scandal. It was fun and sweet, with a surprisingly progressive and feminist perspective on the typical historical romance novel.
Frederica “Free” Marshall is an independent, single woman, fighting for voting rights in England through her thrice-weekly published paper. She faces incredibly and often insulting opposition but stays strong and optimistic despite her odds. Edward Clark is good friends with the older brother of a man who writes for Free’s paper. When Edward hears that someone is out to get this younger brother, Edward joins up with Free to protect him and her paper. Free and Edward are immediately attracted to each other and they make a great team, but Edward is not honest about who he really is and Free doesn’t immediately trust him enough to just fall into his arms. Thus, a romance is born.
I know there are a lot of discouraging things going on in the world when it comes to feminism and equal rights for women. Yet there are also some incredibly encouraging trends. For instance: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and the push to ask women questions of substance on the red carpet; or the fact that Bill Cosby’s actions are not being ignored or accepted anymore. I’d also like to add the state of romance novels these days. If you go back to the romance novels of the 80’s and 90’s (generalizations, of course, and some books are worse than others), they are filled with rape and mistreatment that was supposed to be somehow romantic. Coerced sex and heroes sleeping with the heroine before he cared anything about her were common. Finally, The Suffragette Scandal epitomizes a hero that would be a good partner in real life (except for that bit about pushing her into marriage before she knew the truth, of course—***spoiler***). Edward doesn’t use Free. He genuinely cares about her, respects her, and is changed by her. Also, Free doesn’t give up her life to be with him or end up with the cookie cutter “happy ending” that so many romances deploy, even when they’re trying to be a little subversive.
I had a lot of favorites when it came to this novel, including: any and all discussions about the puppy cannon; all conversations surrounding punctuation, especially exclamations!; and Free’s explanation of her work as a thimble watering a rose garden and how that changed Edward’s whole outlook on life. Fantastic stuff.
Now, this isn’t a real complaint because I really did like this book, but I must admit that I did not get lost in the love scenes. Milan has the ability to make something as simple as touching a woman’s neck incredibly intense and passionate, and I did not feel that tension as much in this book. I appreciated their chemistry and equitable advances, but one scene in particular felt more like a class in “what men should do when a woman says no.” Helpful and refreshing, yes, but it did take me out of the scene.
Finally, I loved the idea that Free and Edward practically renounce their wealth and titles. It fits with their characters and Free doesn’t lose her mission in life just because she marries. I do think that it might be naive and unrealistic to just hand over the reins to the tenant farmers without at least some sort of transition. It’s not that they aren’t capable of it, but they have no experience in that kind of management and I’m pretty sure most of them cannot read. It’s a nice thought, but I’m afraid reality would not be that simple. Anyway, these are only minor hiccups that I had with a book I thoroughly enjoyed. I’d recommend this book, but I’m pretty sure all Milan fans have already read it.
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