This was my first book by Courtney Milan, and while I didn’t love it, I’ll definitely give her another shot. I know she is a popular author, and I’ve seen a lot of recommendations for her books, so I finally read one. I do think many people will love this book, but it was just ok for me.
The hero is Sir Mark Turner, the brother of a duke and the author of A Practical Guide to Male Chastity, which has made him quite a celebrity in Victorian-era England. He has never wished for the adulation the masses seem intent to bestow on him, and has decided to escape the chaos of London for his childhood home in the country.
Enter the heroine, Jessica. She is a courtesan, with a desperate need to become a former courtesan. In pursuit of her goal, she has traveled to Sir Mark’s hometown, posing as a lonely widow, in hopes of seducing him. Jessica’s last protector has promised her a significant amount of money if she will discredit the very publicly chaste Sir Mark by seducing him and providing evidence of his downfall for the papers.
I really liked Jessica. She’s a very intelligent, resourceful woman who turned to life as a courtesan when her father disowned her after a youthful indiscretion at fourteen. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself, just sees her life as it is and is doing her best to survive and improve her lot with the one thing she has at her disposal in Victorian society – her beauty. She takes responsibility for her actions, and is determined to become completely independent, and the victim of no one.
I was much less impressed with Mark. It seems everything he does is the right thing. He’s a nice guy, a virgin – as everyone feels the need to mention multiple times for at least the first half of the book – and quickly becomes infatuated with Jessica. But he’s just too perfect to my mind. He keeps saying that he doesn’t want anyone to put him on a pedestal, that he’s a real man with real flaws, but I don’t need him to tell me that, I want to see it. I suppose the author gave him a bit of a temper in an attempt to give him a personality defect, but he never seems to completely lose his temper, and when he does let go a bit, the results always seem to be positive. It was more of a plot device than a character trait.
Despite my problem with Mark, the first half of the book was good, with Jessica and Mark getting to know each other. Despite Jessica’s ultimate goal of seducing him, she is honest with him about herself and even warns him away from her. Of course he doesn’t listen, and she stops short of telling him exactly why she wants to seduce him, but she doesn’t do or say anything that is an outright lie, so there’s not a whole lot of tension about him finding out what her ulterior motive actually is. At any point it is completely plausible that he could find out, shrug, and say that he understands and forgives her.
But Mark and Jessica’s relationship is not what I really had a problem with in this book. The author packs in a lot of aphorisms and commentary on Victorian society. Yes, of course I think it was a problem that respectable young women could make the smallest of missteps and be condemned by society, but men could virtually get away with anything. Of course I think it’s horrible how reporters follow celebrities and report on all of their comings and goings, and of course I don’t think that a woman always need a man to save her. But I also don’t want a sermon while I’m reading a romance novel. I think all of the points the author wants to make are valid, but they’re so obvious and modern that it really took me out of the story and caused me quite a bit of frustration.
The last nitpick I have is that everyone seems to be a good person, ultimately, with the exception of the “villain”, who ends up getting dealt with in a manner you can see from a mile away. There are quite a few people that do bad things, and yet the all get redeemed in the end, and everyone is forgiven. This may not be a problem for some readers, but I like my romances to be a bit more realistic, and everyone doesn’t have to be a “good” person.
If your a fan of the “grand gesture”, and sweet romance with modern heroes/heroines in a historical setting, then you’ll love this book. If you don’t, prepare yourself for teeth cavities and a lot of eye rolls.