Unclaimed, by Courtney Milan

>> Monday, April 23, 2012

TITLE: Unclaimed
AUTHOR: Courtney Milan

PAGES: 432

SETTING: 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 2nd in the Turner series

Her only hope for survival…

Handsome, wealthy and respected, Sir Mark Turner is the most sought-after bachelor in all of London—and he's known far and wide for his irreproachable character. But behind his virtuous reputation lies a passionate nature he keeps carefully in check...until he meets the beautiful Jessica Farleigh, the woman he's waited for all his life.

Is to ruin the man she loves…

But Jessica is a courtesan, not the genteel lady Sir Mark believes. Desperate to be free of a life she despises, she seizes her chance when Mark's enemies make her an offer she can't refuse: seduce Mark and tarnish his good name, and a princely sum will be hers. Yet as she comes to know the man she's sworn to destroy, Jessica will be forced to choose between the future she needs…and the love she knows is impossible.
Unclaimed is a bit reminiscent of Mary Balogh's Seducing An Angel. There's the "good" hero who, for all his goodness, has got a spine of steel and is very determined to be honourable, and there's the "bad" heroine, who seeks to bring him down, as it would be seen at the time. But much as I enjoyed the Balogh, Unclaimed was by far the superior book.

Sir Mark Turner has become a bit of a rock star, much to his dismay. He is the author of a guide to chastity that has become twisted into something unrecognisable. Mark doesn't see chastity for men as a goal in itself, but as a way of protecting women. Society, however, has interpreted it as all about how to resist the wiles of those evil female temptresses. Young bucks idolise Mark and have created all sorts of secret societies and brotherhoods, devoted to keep each other immune to temptation.

Mark is bemused by all the attention and more than a little annoyed at how little people actually understand what he's saying. Still, there's no stopping the admiration of a nation, and this has put him in the position of being offered a government post. It's not one he particularly wants (it's all to do with the Poor Laws, with which he doesn't agree), but he sees he can do much good with it.

Wanting to take a bit of a holiday from his fame, Mark decides to spend some time in the tiny village where he grew up, and use the peace to decide what to do about the offered post. Unfortunately for him, his fame has preceeded him, and he runs into the same sort of stupid and unthinking adoration he faces in town. But that's not the only thing disturbing his peace: there's also the beautiful widow Jessica Farleigh, who seems determined to rob him of his peace of mind.

Jessica's purpose in coming to the village is to rob Mark of quite a lot more. That government post that Mark isn't sure he wants? There's another guy who's desperate to get it (apparently, an unscrupulous person could profit quite handsomely from it), and his plan to get it is to ruin Mark's reputation by having someone seduce him. And who better than the man's former mistress, the beautiful courtesan Jessica Farleigh?

I loved, loved, LOVED this. I couldn't ask for better main characters. Jessica is one strong woman. She's in quite a desperate position, willing to do anything, even something dishonest, in order to be able to leave prostitution. She's more than willing to ruin Mark, especially since she's completely skeptical about his so-called virtue. Her experience of men has been all about hypocrisy, so she's pretty sure someone like Mark would be perfectly happy to have sex, as long as he can keep it hidden and protect his reputation. She wouldn't mind at all ruining the reputation of a man like that. What she finds, however, is something completely different.

Mark is no hypocrite. He's also not some sort of saint, determined to deny himself. He doesn't care about his reputation, or about chastity as anything other than a way to keep himself from putting women in difficult positions, given societal mores. With the right woman, someone he wants to marry and be faithful to for the rest of his life, he's more than willing to go wild with the sex, even before the marriage vows. And as he gets to know Jessica (chastely, as to her chagrin, he seems to see through all her seduction efforts), he begins to think she might be the one for him.

I loved the guy. He's kind and good without being boring (who says that can't be done?). He's extremely strong and determined to do the right thing, without feeling he needs to assert dominance. I guess he might be a bit too perfect, but he's perfect in such a nuanced, thoughtful (almost twisted!) way, that I didn't mind at all.

Obviously, given Jessica's agenda, they're both on their way to a big confrontation, and some big decisions will have to be made. I didn't see the resolution coming at all, and I loved what Milan did with it.

Brilliant book, almost as good as the first in the trilogy, Unveiled, which was my favourite book of 2011. I can't wait to read the last one!



Samantha 24 April 2012 at 02:45  

I keep seeing really great things about Courtney Milan lately. I swear she's going to be author that makes me break my vow to never again pick up another historical romance. This one sounds really great. I'm very tempted. Great review!

Rosario 26 April 2012 at 07:11  

Samantha: If anyone should, it's Milan. You should try the first one in the series, it reads fresh and original and new, and all with a plot that's not at all revolutionary.

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