The Duchess War, by Courtney Milan

>> Thursday, January 03, 2013

TITLE: The Duchess War
AUTHOR: Courtney Milan

PAGES: 412
PUBLISHER: Self-published

SETTING: 19th century Leicester
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 1st full-length book in the Brothers Sinister series, follows The Governess Affair

Miss Minerva Lane is a quiet, bespectacled wallflower, and she wants to keep it that way. After all, the last time she was the center of attention, it ended badly—so badly that she changed her name to escape her scandalous past. Wallflowers may not be the prettiest of blooms, but at least they don’t get trampled. So when a handsome duke comes to town, the last thing she wants is his attention.

But that is precisely what she gets.

Because Robert Blaisdell, the Duke of Clermont, is not fooled. When Minnie figures out what he’s up to, he realizes there is more to her than her spectacles and her quiet ways. And he’s determined to lay her every secret bare before she can discover his. But this time, one shy miss may prove to be more than his match...
I've featured The Duchess War in my "Next month's wishlist" posts for a few months running, as its release kept getting postponed. It's now out, and man, was it worth the wait!

Minnie is a woman with a big secret in her past. She's determined to draw no attention to herself, get married, and live quietly for the rest of her life. And then someone starts publishing revolutionary pamphlets, urging workers in Leicester to  organise. Suspicion falls on her, and she's terrified that if people start looking into her past with any depth, her secret will come out.

There is something she can do, though. Quiet she might be, but Minnie is also extremely clever. Based on the content and timing on the pamphlets, she knows exactly who's behind them: Robert Blaisdell, the Duke of Clermont, and she intends to prove it.

This is a romance which works so well because the sense of connection between hero and heroine is so strong. Milan showed me exactly why this particular woman and this particular man were so right for each other. On the surface, they aren't, but the thing is, they each manage to immediately look right under the other's surface, and see the real person beneath. Robert looks at Minnie and sees the brilliant strategist under the mousy skin, while she sees the radical revolutionary beneath the glossy duke. These two aren't broad archetypes, they're people, and they act and think like people.

There are all sorts of elements I just loved. There's Robert's relationship with his brother, and his determination to be completely different to his father. There's his sexual history, and the way this results in one of the best first love scenes I've ever read. There's Minnie's own history, and the way this creates a completely organic conflict, which wouldn't be the same with any other two characters. There's Robert's mother, a much subtler character than she initially seems. There's even a really cool setting... imagine, an English city other than London in a historical, and the fact that that workers' rights play a big role in the plot!

I don't want to say too much, because a big part of why this book worked for me is that Milan takes so many typical and tired romance elements and turns them on their head. She does this while also delivering a satisfying, heart-warming romance, thus proving that these elements are not actually necessary. This year has been a great one for subversive romances, and I'm hoping the experiementation will continue!



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