Review by Lady Wesley
My thoughts upon finishing this book: Wow! How can I write a review that does justice to this magnificent novel?
Well, I can’t, but for what it’s worth, here goes.
Huzzah! Courtney Milan!
This heart-tugging story of two people living in a world into which they do not fit is an appropriate ending to Milan’s brilliant Brothers Sinister series, consisting of four novels and three novellas, each of which I rated at five stars.
Consider this: despite being called the Brothers Sinister, the titles refer to women, and these books are in truth about the heroines and the role of women in Victorian society. And in 1877, suffragettes represented the ultimate threat to the status quo.
Frederica “Free” Marshall is the daughter of Hugo and Serena Marshall of The Governess Affair. Her brother Oliver, hero of The Heiress Effect, was educated at Cambridge and is now a member of Parliament. In his story, we saw Free as a precocious youngster who wanted to attend Cambridge and didn’t see why she shouldn’t have just as good an education as her brother. Oh yes, and the right to vote. Fortunately, Girton College came along, and Free got her B.A. Using a legacy from her namesake great aunt Freddy, Free establishes a newspaper – the Women’s Free Press – By Women, For Women, About Women. Free has made a name for herself as a crusading investigative reporter, exposing abuses against women in factories and hospitals and advocating for their right to vote. She has no illusions of achieving total victory, but she is wholeheartedly committed to trying. At the suggestion that she could have had an easier life married to a lord, she retorts:
I’ve built something here. It’s a business that is not just for women, but for all women. We print essays from women who work fourteen hours a day in the mines, from prostitutes, from millworkers demanding a woman’s union. Do you think I’d give this up to plan dinner parties?
Free and her newspaper are, not surprisingly, quite unpopular in certain quarters, and now some unknown person is on a campaign to destroy the paper. One day, a man calling himself Edward Clark appears in her office offering to help Free fight her nemesis. After coolly announcing that he is a blackmailer, a forger, and a liar, Edward admits that he has his own reasons for desiring revenge against the man responsible for Free’s troubles. He won’t divulge who that man is, but Free realizes that she has little choice but to, if not trust him, at least find out if he can deliver.
It happens that Free’s adversary is James Delacey, Edward Clark’s younger brother and the perpetrator of a cruel betrayal of Edward. For almost seven years, Edward has been assumed to be dead, and James is now on the verge of claiming Edward’s rightful title as Viscount Claridge. Edward does not want the title or any of the responsibilities that go with it, and he had intended never to return to England. James’s vendetta, however, threatens one of Edward’s oldest friends, a young man who writes a column for Free, so Edward proposes to be her ally while keeping virtually all of the details of his life a secret from her.
The story takes the reader through several months of Free and Edward working together, and sometimes apart, to achieve their goals, never completely trusting one another. Along the way, Edward undergoes a remarkable, and unexpected, journey toward the discovery that he is not quite as much of a scoundrel as he had supposed. Gradually, he tells Free more about his life – how he was exiled by his father, betrayed by his brother and eventually caught in the horrible siege of Strasbourg during the Franco-Prussian War, how he was held captive and tortured, and how he came to perfect the art of forgery. But he never reveals his true identity to Free, even after he marries her, and he knows that this is one deception she will never forgive.
There is so much to know about Edward that I would have to double the length of this review were I to discuss it all. Suffice it to say, then, that Edward is a reluctant, tortured hero unlike any other I have ever read, and I’m half in love with him myself.
Not surprisingly, the other Brothers Sinister and their mates appear as secondary characters, along with Free’s parents. Every book in this series has featured unforgettable characters, and it’s fun to encounter them again.
This review has barely skimmed the surface of Milan’s complex, satisfying story, but I want to say a word about the Brothers Sinister series in general. By polite society’s standards, there is something “wrong” with each heroine – Serena, the ruined governess determined to get justice; Minnie, the chess prodigy and political activist; Lydia, condemned by medical “science” for her sins at the age of fifteen; Jane, a naturally loud, talkative, argumentative woman who chose to make herself even more undesirable to protect her afflicted little sister; Violet, who hides her scientific acumen knowing that society will not accept her discoveries; and now Free, brash, assertive, and committed, no matter that society disapproves of such unladylike behavior.
In none of these books does the hero come along, sweep the heroine off her feet and rescue her. Instead, these women persevere until they succeed in finding a comfortable mate and place in the world without surrendering their essential being. And the mates that they find are exceptional as well – men willing to accept the women they love for who and what they are. Milan’s talent is so remarkable that she is able to present these stories without making these women too modern and never straying into preachiness. In fact, each book is filled with warmth, sensuality and lots of clever humor.
Obviously, I adore romance novels, but Milan’s books are really so much more than that. They are not merely historical romance novels. They are history. They are romance. They are excellent novels deserving of wide readership. As I’ve said before, Courtney Milan is playing chess, while everyone else is playing checkers.
Publisher and Release Date: Courtney Milan, July 2014
Time and Setting: England, 1877
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
An idealistic suffragette . . .
Miss Frederica “Free” Marshall has put her heart and soul into her newspaper, known for its outspoken support of women’s rights. Naturally, her enemies are intent on destroying her business and silencing her for good. Free refuses to be at the end of her rope . . . but she needs more rope, and she needs it now.
. . .a jaded scoundrel . . .
Edward Clark’s aristocratic family abandoned him to die in a war-torn land, so he survived the only way he could: by becoming a rogue and a first-class forger. When the same family that left him for dead vows to ruin Miss Marshall, he offers his help. So what if he has to lie to her? She’s only a pawn to use in his revenge.
. . . and a scandal seven years in the making.
But the irrepressible Miss Marshall soon enchants Edward. By the time he realizes that his cynical heart is hers, it’s too late. The only way to thwart her enemies is to reveal his scandalous past . . . and once the woman he loves realizes how much he’s lied to her, he’ll lose her forever.