Unlocked, by Courtney Milan

>> Thursday, March 27, 2014

TITLE: Unlocked
AUTHOR: Courtney Milan

PAGES: About 110 pages
PUBLISHER: Self-published

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Part of the Turner series (not many connections, though)

A perpetual wallflower destined for spinsterhood, Lady Elaine Warren is resigned to her position in society. So when Evan Carlton, the powerful, popular Earl of Westfeld, singles her out upon his return to England, she knows what it means. Her former tormenter is up to his old tricks, and she’s his intended victim. This time, though, the earl is going to discover that wallflowers can fight back.

Evan has come to regret his cruel, callow past. At first, he only wants to make up for past wrongs. But when Elaine throws his initial apology in his face, he finds himself wanting more. And this time, what torments him might be love...

Something I've often thought when it comes to Regency-set historicals is that these young women coming out in society would have been very, very young, and so would have many of the young men attending all those balls with them. Would they have been any less thoughtless and cruel than teenagers today?

It's clear that the young people in Unlocked could be just as cruel and thoughtless as the most self-absorbed teens today, as shown by the treatment meted out to Lady Elaine Warren. Elaine couldn't wait to have her first season. A happy, exuberant girl, she was ready to enjoy herself. And then she met Evan Carlton.

Evan found himself very attracted to Elaine's vitality, but young as he was, he opted to show this attraction by basically pulling her pigtails. He kept mocking her, and since he was the popular boy, the rest of society followed suit. By the time Evan realised what he had done the damage was done, and like the immature idiot he was, he ran away instead of trying to fix the mess he'd created.

Elaine had nowhere to run to, though, and 10 years later, she's still stuck in the same cycle. She's a laughingstock, especially because she refuses to be cowed and hide in a corner. So her laugh makes her sound like a horse? Well, she'll keep laughing, and let them mock her. But continuing to smile in the face of humiliation is not easy, and her defiance has taken a huge toll on her.

And then Evan comes back from his self-imposed exile, and is shocked to see that what he set in motion has taken on a life of its own. He had expected (or hoped, rather) that society would have got bored of mocking Elaine and moved on to other victims, leaving her to make a good marriage. He can't believe they're still picking on her and that, as a result, she's still single. And he's even more surprised to realise that his old attraction is still there, and even stronger now.

Ahh, the lovely, lovely angst. I really enjoyed this. Milan is really good at novellas, and Unlocked is one of her best. It's not an easy conflict to solve, because Elaine has excellent reasons to detest Evan and, at the beginning, I honestly didn't know whether she should forgive him at all. Evan has his work cut out for him, and I liked that he realised it and understood that Elaine had no obligation to forgive him, no matter how sorry he now felt about what he'd done all those years ago. He also didn't set out to get her to forgive him, his motivation in the present day was simply to make amends for the harm he had caused. This is romance, so of course, Elaine does forgive him, but it was important to me that Evan wasn't doing it for that. And I believed fully in Elaine's forgiveness. This is a novella, so there isn't a whole lot of space, but Milan convinced me about the gradual development of a changing relationship between them. Lovely.

In addition to this, I particularly liked something that I've liked in other Milan works, and that is the mixture of love and pain that can occur in the parent/child relationship. Elaine's mother is a genius, an absolutely brilliant woman in her field, but completely oblivious. She loves her daughter, but has absolutely no idea what her social situation is. So Elaine is not just defending herself from society, but also her mother. Her mother, meanwhile, and with the best of intentions, keeps making things worse. These sections made me cry.

So, so good.



Angiegirl 27 March 2014 at 03:42  

Beautiful review, Rosario. I loved this one, too. She has an unbelievable talent for novellas.

Rosario 27 March 2014 at 06:35  

Thanks, Angiegirl! I agree completely. A Kiss For Midwinter might be my favourite ever.

Marg 27 March 2014 at 10:13  

I love Milan's books. There is just something about her writing that is so involving.

Sun,  27 March 2014 at 10:35  

I love her work. The depth, the emotion, the extent of character development she managed to pack into such a limited number of pages is simply amazing. Have you read "This Wicked Gift"? It was her very first novella and I was blown away.

Angiegirl 27 March 2014 at 14:59  

Yes! A Kiss for Midwinter is so lovely. I'm extremely partial to The Governess Affair as well.

Rosario 28 March 2014 at 07:21  

Marg: I know what you mean. When I start one of her books, I know I'm going to just sink into it!

Sun: Absolutely. I always think of her books when people say that novellas are too short to do romance properly. Not if you do it right! I haven't read This Wicked Gift yet, but I have it. I've been hoarding it!

Angiegirl: I loved The Governess Affair, too, although I would say I've liked her other novellas even better.

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