As a cherry on the sundae of a wonderful week, I received an advance reader copy of After the Wedding by Courtney Milan, in exchange for an honest review. I can say honestly that I love it. I love Camilla and Adrian.
Happily ever after is built into the genre, it is a given. We know before we open the book that Camilla and Adrian will fall in love. The joy of reading Romance is seeing exactly how the author takes us down this familiar path. Courtney Milan gives us two lovely characters, a cause worth fighting for, and supporting characters who add levity to the proceedings. In After the Wedding Camilla and Adrian are forced into matrimony by two unscrupulous clergymen at gunpoint. Having been passed around like an unwanted package since she was 12, Camilla is desperate, almost penniless and homeless, as she follows her unwilling husband down a dark road. Adrien, trying to gain his uncle’s public acknowledgment and run a business, has no time for an unwanted wife. The two take a leap of faith in each other and become partners and then friends in a quest for an annulment. The annulment becomes a vehicle for taking back their dignity, their right to choose and be chosen, and justice.
If the Brothers Sinister series was about women finding the strength to be themselves, and to stand up for themselves, the Worth Saga (so far two novels and a novella) is about people finding their worth and understanding that they deserve to be loved just as they are: even having made mistakes, even being poor, even being black, even being queer. Camilla has been made to feel small and unlovable, and yet she retains her courage and ability to hope. Adrian, a black British man, is often viewed with suspicion by people who assume his blackness equals foreignness, and yet he retains the ability to be generous and to trust in others. This is the true strength of Milan’s writing, her books are about something, and they are about something that matters greatly both to her characters and her readers alike.
Adrian and Camilla are well matched. As they fall in love (not so slowly), they bring out the best in each other and give us some excellent pining, longing and sexual tension. Like all Milan couples, they see each other where other, less observant people have not.
“There.” She took a bite of the concoction. “It’s not bad. The vinegar of the potato balances the tastelessness of the soup.”
When he raised an eyebrow, she reached across the table and filled his spoon. He took one sip, made a face, and shook his head.
“Well, I’ve learned something about you. You’re one of those people who can find the good in anything, aren’t you?”
Milan has always been at the feminist forefront of the evolution of the romance genre. She is passionate about dismantling patriarchy and white supremacy. Diversity in romance writers and characters has been an ongoing conversation in Romancelandia. Great Britain is the most common setting for historical romance, and most historical romances reinforce the perception that pre-Twentieth Century Britain was all white. Most historical romances focus on the very wealthy and aristocratic, while ignoring the ugly ways Britain made it’s wealth. After the Wedding is not a “very special episode” romance. This book is not built to solely or completely address diversity or the realities of women’s lives in 19th century Britain. It does those things and alludes to the messy reality of history through telling the story of Camilla and Adrian’s romance.
By the end of the book I was emotionally satisfied enough to leave Camilla and Adrian to their happily ever after, intrigued by where Milan is taking the youngest Worth sister, Theresa, and desperately awaiting Greyson’s story. Milan’s passion and rage against injustice gives After the Wedding an illuminating fire. As much as I loved Camilla and Adrian, it falls just short of being a classic. It is a very good book that I will gladly reread, but maybe not as often as I reread A Kiss For Midwinter.
A very special thank you to faintingviolet for giving my review a good edit.