>> Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Ash Turner has waited a lifetime to seek revenge on the man who ruined his family—and now the time for justice has arrived. At Parford Manor, he intends to take his place as the rightful heir to the dukedom and settle an old score with the current duke once and for all. But instead he finds himself drawn to a tempting beauty who has the power to undo all his dreams of vengeance….When Ash Turner was a child, his sister died because the cruel Duke of Parford refused to extend any assistance, even though the Turners were related to him. The very young Ash had walked for miles to make his desperate plea for help, and when he was refused, he decided he would one day get his revenge on the Duke.
Lady Margaret knows she should despise the man who's stolen her fortune and her father's legacy—the man she's been ordered to spy on in the guise of a nurse. Yet the more she learns about the new duke, the less she can resist his smoldering appeal. Soon Margaret and Ash find themselves torn between old loyalties—and the tantalizing promise of passion…
Fast-forward a couple of decades, and Ash is just about to get the perfect revenge on the man. As soon as he was old enough, he regretfully left his brothers with his mother (who wasn't quite right in the head), and went to India, where he made his fortune. On his return, he used his resources to find out the Duke had already been secretly married before he married the woman who gave birth to his heirs, and exposed the secret. The duke's children are therefore now illegitimate, and Ash himself has become the new heir. The duke is on his deathbed, and when he finally dies, Ash will take his title. In the meantime, the duke's children are throwing all their efforts into a last-ditch attempt to get Parliament to legitimise them. Ash isn't worried.
Margaret is the duke's only daughter, and she has been crushed by Ash's actions. She had always taken her social position for granted and had placed pretty much all her self-value on being a wealthy duke's daughter. The sudden loss of it all: money, position, friends, the right to go about in high society, not to mention the characterisation of her beloved late mother as an adulterer, have been a huge blow.
When Parliament orders the Parfords to receive Ash Turner in their country estate (he requests to be assured that his inheritance is not being mistreated and stolen), Margaret's brothers request that she stay behind and pretend to be the duke's nurse. That way, she will be able to spy on the Turners and discover ammunition her brothers can use to convince the House of Lords that they would be unsuitable.
But Ash is a complete surprise to Margaret. He's clearly quite taken by her, in spite of her determination to be cold and rigid. But rather than simply take advantage of his position and pressure the woman he thinks is a simple nurse into his bed, Ash seems to see her as a real person, and to really like what he sees. And for Margaret, who has been completely lost since her illegitimacy and has no idea who she really is, this is irresistible.
Why on earth haven't I read Courtney Milan before? This was absolutely brilliant, one of my favourite books of the year so far. The best thing is that not only did I think Unveiled was technically fantastic, I also loved it in addition to admire it. It engaged me emotionally, as well as intellectually. At the same time I was thinking that the characterisation was brilliantly and very subtly done, that these felt like real people, with the little faults and contradictions that real people have, I also cared deeply about them and felt the connection between the characters right in my gut. I started it at the beginning of a week in which I was pretty busy after work, and I actually resented having to go out for things I actually really enjoy doing, simply because they were keeping me from coming back to the book.
My absolute adoration of Unveiled is even more remarkable because at face value, it does contain some quite hoary romance cliches, and cliches I never liked. Ash is so determined to get his revenge that he doesn't even consider its effects on Margaret, who's a complete innocent in this whole affair. And Margaret could be described as a bit of a martyr for her brothers, especially near the end.
I guess what this proves is that in the hands of a really talented author, there's no plot element that couldn't be made to work wonderfully. Because there's so much more to Ash and Margaret than a cruel man who doesn't care about the consequences of his revenge and a martyr who'll sacrifice for the good of her family. Ash is the very opposite of that description: he's done what he's done, yes, and didn't give much thought to the fact that he would be subjecting people like Margaret, who'd never done anything to him, to much humiliation. But at the same time, he's also one of the most nurturing and kind heroes I've read in a while. And his revenge, once you start to know him, is quite clearly not about revenge, as much as about his absolute determination to give his brothers what they deserve and about making up his perceived abandonment of them when they were young.
And Margaret's decisions were, to me, more about her having grown a spine and deciding to do what she feels is important, refusing to buckle under the pressure of even the man she loves. And incidentally, her choices are more about her love for her late mother, than about duty to her selfish brothers, and I loved what Milan did at the end. Let's just say that there's a limit to what her brothers can do before Margaret stops being nice and gives them what they deserve, and quite effectively, too.
I'm afraid I can't seem to write a review that adequately reflects the complexity of the characters or the freshness of the plot (cliches or no cliches). There's so much more in here. There's Ash's very complicated relationship with his brothers, in which there's just as much love as there are misunderstandings and lack of communication, causing hurt feelings. There's Margaret struggle between betraying Ash's trust on something very important to him that he's shared with her and the knowledge that if she does, she has a good chance of material gain. There's Ash's insecurity about what he revealed to Margaret, and his wonder at her reaction to it. And I haven't even mentioned the wonderful secondary characters. Unveiled is the first in a trilogy, and his brothers will get their own books, including the lovely Mark, with his good-humoured treatise on chastity, which I would very much like to read.
Do read this book, you won't be disappointed.
MY GRADE: An A.