I discovered Courtney Milan's historical romance novels early this year and have spent the better part of the past three months making my way through her back list. Of the multitude of novels and novellas I've read of hers, these are the three I took the time to review, albeit briefly, and they are in the order in which I read them, which wasn't chronological (though I'd likely recommend reading these books in order as they're likely better appreciated, in some ways at least). Needless to say, I hope to convince many more readers to pick up her work - particularly if you believe historical romance isn't a genre that appeals to you. Milan will likely prove you wrong.
Title: Unraveled (Turner, #3)
Author: Courtney Milan
Rating: 4.5 Stars
It's official: Courtney Milan is my new favorite author. While I'm not known to have much luck in the historical romance genre, Milan subverts a plethora of overused tropes, making her novels enticingly real. Although I've only read three of her works so far, they've featured a doctor intent on using revolutionary means to prevent the spread of infection, a thug (of sorts) who has followed instructions without questioning them for years, and now a magistrate whose middle name might as well be justice itself. None of her heroes are, from the surface, heroic but they all lend themselves perfectly to an exploration of the time period and to an unknown source of depth. Moreover, these heroines are no less stunning in their portrayal, vivaciously strong and determined to survive despite the odds they are constantly battling. Unraveled is a historical romance, yes, but it will do so much more than simply set your heart on fire; it will melt it.
Title: The Countess Conspiracy (The Brothers Sinister, #3)
Author: Courtney Milan
Rating: 4 Stars
What do you get when you combine historical feminism, science, and a best friend romance? If you answered The Countess Conspiracy, you'd be right. I seem to be making it a habit to start off with the third book in a Milan series, despite the fact that I fully intend to read the predecessors. With its synopsis of a widowed countess whose science experiments are masqueraded off by her best friend, however, I couldn't resist. Compared to the previous full-length Milan novel I read, Unraveled, this romance is remarkably chaste. And yet, the palpable tension between Violet and Sebastian, two friends who have been pillars of support for one another for years, is a welcome torture. Milan manages to build their relationship dynamic without resorting to flashbacks, a pet peeve of mine, but the strength of the bond between these two is undeniable. For me, however, the best aspects of this novel lie in the fact that Sebastian loves Violet for who she is - determined, stubborn, loathe to trust due to her tragic past, and fiercely intelligent. Despite the fact that she is not a great beauty and that her behavior defies the strict rules of society, he cannot help but admire her for the person she is. Milan's tidbits of feminism, evident both in the scientific aspects of this tale and weaved throughout the story line, are true gems. In the end, The Countess Conspiracy does, after all, prove to be a conspiracy. One to win over your heart.
Title: Unclaimed (Turner, #2)
Author: Courtney Milan
Rating: 3 Stars
Nevertheless, Mark Turner of Unclaimed makes extremely important points regarding sexuality, chastity, and mutual respect in a relationship. Seeing these ideals espoused - and carried out - by a strong, inspirational male character (who is a virgin, no less!) is the direction I wish more novels would move towards. Especially in an era which glorifies the male empowerment over the female. As such, I found myself pleasantly surprised by Milan's discussion of female treatment in this book, along with her exploration of their sexuality. Jessica, despite being a courtesan, has never liked herself or felt empowered by her gender. Instead, she has seen relationships as possession - only she is the one being possessed. While I didn't always enjoy the direction Jessica's actions took her, I really did love her continual growth throughout the novel which was linked both to her physical and mental psyche.
While not a stunning Milan piece, Unclaimed is still far superior to the majority of historical romances out there. And, if you read this series in the right order, you'll be awarded with Smite Turner next. Who could turn that down?