Does Courtney Milan know how to bounce back or what? After the slight letdown that was Once Upon a Marquess, she gifts her adoring public with the practically-perfect-in-every-way Her Every Wish, the rare (for me) novella that tells a fully-realized story in its shorter framework and avoids the pitfalls of contrivance or half-baked narrative that really could have benefited from the full-length treatment to give it depth.
Our heroine is Daisy, best friend of Judith Worth from the former novel. Daisy does okay for herself and her mother, who she cares for, by working at a flower shop, but their money is always extremely tight and even without considering money, Daisy has loftier ambitions than working in someone else’s shop. When a local parish announces that a charitable donation will be given to the best business proposal, but there is no specific language limiting the contest to men, Daisy gathers up her nerves and enters Daisy’s Emporium: a shop for reasonably-priced non-essential goods that will allow lesser privileged women to treat themselves and their families to a bit more beauty and pleasure in their homes. Her proposal is sound: she’s done her research, knows the cost and likely profit margin of the shop, and, importantly, she knows there is an untapped market that her shop will serve.
But, these are Victorian times, so it’s little wonder that her proposal is initially met with cutting derision. Enter hero Crash, who offers to help coach her just on her presentation. Confidence, he promises, goes a long way to getting people to take you seriously, and perhaps more than the actual merit of your talk. He would know, as someone of mixed-ethnic origin who has business ambitions of his own, what it’s like not to be taken seriously, but he has cultivated a formidable shield against the racism and ignorance, both overt and unintentional — that he experiences. His offer to help Daisy is rooted in this understanding, but also out of affection for her.
Daisy and Crash have a history. They’ve — to put it bluntly — already slept together, but exchanged words after that encounter that soured their relationship. So throughout their lessons, this story is partly about two people coming back from hitting each other where it hurts, and partly about the power of recognizing one’s own worth in the face of other people’s assertions against that worth. As with every Milan, it’s funny in the way that characters use humor to interact and cope, but painful in the way that she uses the historical setting to highlight societal ugliness that seems doomed to be constant throughout time. But she’s also deeply hopeful in an honest and accurate way, because her stories don’t include saccharine resolutions that involve changing the world; rather, they are demonstrations of how we all can strive to carve our own way in the world and, basically, f*ck the haters.