Unraveled, by Courtney Milan

>> Tuesday, November 13, 2012

TITLE: Unraveled
AUTHOR: Courtney Milan

PAGES: 501
PUBLISHER: Self-published

SETTING: 19th century England (Bristol)
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Last in the Turner series

Smite Turner is renowned for his single-minded devotion to his duty as a magistrate. But behind his relentless focus lies not only a determination to do what is right, but the haunting secrets of his past--secrets that he is determined to hide, even if it means keeping everyone else at arm's length. Until the day an irresistible woman shows up as a witness in his courtroom...

Miranda Darling isn't in trouble...yet. But she's close enough that when Turner threatens her with imprisonment if she puts one foot wrong, she knows she should run in the other direction. And yet no matter how forbidding the man seems on the outside, she can't bring herself to leave. Instead, when he tries to push her away, she pushes right back--straight through his famous self-control, and into the heart of the passion that he has long hidden away...
Unraveled is the book that closes Courtney Milan's Turner series, which follows three brothers who grew up with a dangerously insane mother. Smite was the middle child, and the one who was left responsible for his youngest brother, Mark, when the oldest, Ash, left to make his fortune. Ash returned after a few years and, having acquired money and power, was now able to rescue his brothers. In the interim, however, Smite bore the brunt of his mother's insanity.

Now an adult, Smite has become a magistrate. Most of his fellow magistrates in Bristol take a pretty relaxed approach to justice, but not Smite. He's determined to make sure everyone, rich or poor, has access to real justice. He feels magistrates (and therefore, justice) failed him when he asked for help as a child, and wants to make sure other people have that. He's acquired a reputation as a rigid, cold man.

Miranda Darling is a young woman doing her best to survive in the dangerous slums of the city. In order to keep herself and Robbie, the teenage boy in her charge, safe, Miranda has entered into an agreement with the Patron, the shadowy figure who controls the area. In return for the Patron keeping Robbie out of the petty crime all the boys in the area get involved in (controlled, of course, by none other than the Patron), Miranda will use the skills she acquired growing up in an actors' company. Mainly, she puts on a character and gives false testimony to keep other people in the Patron's protection out of jail.

Miranda is a fine actress, but her skills with disguise are no match for Smite's photographic memory. It also doesn't help that something about this woman captures his attention. He recognises Miranda as the same person who was in his court a few months earlier, looking quite different and under another name, and confronts her about it. After this, Miranda doesn't feel she can work with the Patron any longer. But the Patron won't take no for an answer, and Miranda must continue to approach Smite...

Unraveled really, really worked for me. Having read a couple of reviews in my usual haunts after finishing the book, I know some readers have had issues with the justification of some of the decisions the characters make, such as Miranda's immediate acceptance of Smite's offer for her to become his mistress. I have to say, I didn't even blink at that. To me, it felt perfectly natural. Miranda had been portrayed up until then as a very pragmatic young woman, willing to do what she had to to protect herself and Robbie, even if it was strictly illegal. Over previous years, she was under the Patron's protection, so she didn't feel pressure to become anyone's mistress. But now that protection has not only been withdrawn, but turned into a threat. And here's a man she not only likes, but is extremely attracted to, offering her both protection but a sum of money big enough to set her up for the rest of her life. I felt the character Miranda had been established to be would have jumped at this opportunity, and so she did, especially since she was fooling herself that she wouldn't fall in love with Smite, or anything silly like that. Of course, that doesn't quite work out, neither for her nor for Smite.

These two fit perfectly well together. They seem to immediately understand who the other is, under their disguises, which, especially for Smite, is a revelation. I'm often bored by the more suspense-type elements in romances, but this was one case where these really helped develop the romance. I was afraid the issues with the Patron would turn into something truly tedious. The Patron blackmails Miranda, she hides it from Smite to protect him, he feels betrayed that she preferred doing something illegal to confiding in him when he finds out, blah, blah, blah, predictable, boring conflict. I shouldn't have feared Milan would lower herself to this. It appears at one point that it's going to go that way. And then Milan just turns things around completely, and this apparently cliched situation becomes fresh and original and develops Smite and Miranda romance in a very satisfying manner. I also quite liked the resolution of this element, the very subtle way Milan contrasts the different types of justice Smite and the Patron stand for.

Something else that was amazing was the brothers' relationships with one another. Most especially, I loved the way Smite and Ash's relationship evolves. There's a lot of pain and unacknowledged resentment there, in addition to very deep love, so the scenes these two have together are heart-wrenching. I also liked the way Smite's relationship with his illegitimate brother, Richard, develops. There's a very complicated past there, which you can only really appreciate if you read book 1, aggravated by the fact that these two were friends when at Eton, but then Richard did some very hurtful things, and Smite cut him off completely from his life.

I also really liked the setting. It's refreshing to have an urban setting outside of London, and to have it have such a vivid sense of place. It was wonderfully done. I'm still waiting for one set here in Liverpool, though!



Marg 16 November 2012 at 01:54  

Courtney Milan is fast becoming one of my favourite HR authors. Her books are such pleasures to read.

Rosario 16 November 2012 at 07:12  

Yes, same here. And she's improving, too! :-D

Christine,  25 January 2013 at 20:14  

I really enjoyed this book. I found both the hero and heroine refreshing- I loved that he was a judge. It's such an interesting way to examine the judicial system and it's flaws at the time without being stuffy or preachy. I own the other two books of this series but this was the only one to "grab" me. I started both of the others but just couldn't make it through. This one I couldn't put down. I'll have to go back and see if Smite's parts in the others are enough to give me a jump start on reading them.

Rosario 26 January 2013 at 08:34  

Christine: Milan's latest books have managed to take a setting that's been used so many times, and yet show elements of it you just haven't seen in other romances. And she makes it feel natural, too, not in a "I've done the research and, by God, you're going to read about it!" way.

There is quite a bit of the relationship between the brothers in the previous books, especially in book 1 (which is my favourite of the 3, actually!).

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