As I read The Marquis Who Mustn’t, I found myself reading scenes aloud to a friend while we were running errands together (nothing like an audience trapped with you in a car). I actually called her later in the day and read more choice bits. She didn’t hang up on me. She even chuckled. So, yes, I loved this.
The Marquis Who Mustn’t is delightful and also heavy on the angst. It dives into some issues I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. If you follow Courtney Milan on social media, you won’t be surprised by the myriad of ways she asks how and why do we hold certain things to be true. Kai has rules about lying, taught to him by his father, a conman who defrauded the residents of Wedgeford when Kai was a child. The lies at the center of the plot are Milan’s conduit for examining truth. From the way Kai and Naomi see themselves to the nature of time itself, Milan is asking why do we think this is true? Who benefits from this truth? How was this truth constructed? Does this truth make me small, or embrace all that I am?
There is a wonderful moment about a third of the way into the book when Kai is reconnecting with Mr. Bei, his neighbor.
Kai frowned. “Why is there even a bell up here?”
“Back from the days when Wedgeford was a stop on the stage route,” Mr. Bei explained. “The person living up here could see coaches coming. They’d ring and let the town know to prepare.”
“And now you ring the time? You must have a…clock?”
“Ha!” Mr. Bei slapped his thigh. “You’re funny.” Kai had not intended to be funny. “I just make it up,” Mr. Bei explained.
“You make up the time?”
“Why not?” Mr. Bei shrugged. “Time is whatever we agree on anyway. It doesn’t have to be accurate. It just has to exist.
Naomi has agreed to a truth that she is plain, clumsy and unloved, like her mother. Kai has adopted the truth that he must redress the sins of his father and does not deserve kindness or love until he repays Wedgeford. The town of Wedgeford is inclined to believe that Kai is up to no good until Naomi insists that they treat Kai as someone who deserves to make his own reputation.
I adored Naomi’s passion for First Aid and Kai’s passion for pottery. Kai’s rant about the British obsession with porcelain is a thing of beauty. (I still get an eye twitch when I think about the time someone insisted that pilaf and risotto were essentially the same thing.) There are so many moments of kindness and acceptance, of reframing the view to show grace rather than find fault.
I love it when an author includes content notes on their site: References and depictions of racism and misogyny. References throughout to lying and gaslighting for economic gain. References to emotional abuse of a child.
I received this as an advance reader copy from the author. I had already pre-ordered the book. My opinions are my own, freely and honestly given.