Once Upon a Marquess, by Courtney Milan

>> Monday, February 08, 2016

TITLE: Once Upon a Marquess
AUTHOR: Courtney Milan

PAGES: 277
PUBLISHER: Self-published

SETTING: 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: First book in the Worth Saga

The last man Judith Worth wants to see again is Christian Trent, the Marquess of Ashford—the man who spent summers at her family home, who kissed her one magical night…and then heartlessly ruined her father. But when a tricky business matter arises, he’s the only one she can ask for help. With any luck, he’ll engage a servant to take care of the matter, and she won’t even have to talk with him.

But Ashford has never forgotten Judith. He knows she will never forgive him for what he’s done, but when offered the chance to assist her, he arrives in person. His memory of Judith may have haunted him, but it pales in comparison to the reality of the vivacious, beautiful woman he rediscovers. Throughout his life, he has always done what is correct. But now, he finds himself doing something utterly wrong…falling in love with the one woman he can never have.
Once Upon a Marquess was in my list of my most highly anticipated books last year. I resisted the temptation to inhale it as soon as I'd bought it, and saved it for my holiday. Once in Uruguay, when I was sitting in the shade by the pool and wonderfully relaxed I finally opened it... and was underwhelmed.

Almost ten years before the star of this story, Lady Judith Worth and Christian Trent, the Marquess of Ashford, were friends, and that friendship was clearly turning into something else. But then Christian was asked to investigate accusations against Judith’s father for a trial in the House of Lords. His reluctance to do this was only overcome when he was told this would guarantee the man had a fair trial. Fully expecting to find evidence of his innocence, Christian was shocked when he didn't. And it turned out he not only found damning evidence to condemn Judith's father, he found evidence to condemn her eldest brother, his own best friend, as well.

As the story starts, Judith is living an impoverished life. Her father committed suicide and her brother disappeared at sea while being transported to Australia. She now needs help getting a solicitor to give her information, and since Christian has just contacted her asking for a favour himself, she feels she can ask him to borrow a man of business in return. But Christian comes himself and insists he's the one to help her. And as they spend time together, it becomes clear the feelings they had for each other all those years earlier have not disappeared.

Weirdly, although the fact that this book didn't work for me was a surprise, the problem I had wasn't one, really. Milan is one of my favourite authors and I’ve adored quite a few of her historicals, but there's something that has been growing in her books lately, and here it went over the tipping point. Basically, I found the game-playing and artificial cleverness between Judith and Christian quite tiresome. They play this sort of pretend game where Judith has asked Christian to make sure she continues to hate him. Therefore they must turn every interaction into a way that they can keep this going, even when he does something nice for her like making her her favourite sandwiches. Every one of their interactions is coloured by this dynamic, and a little went a long way. I just wanted them to interact normally, after a while. They basically spend most of their time speaking in code, and this made it really hard for any real feeling to shine through. Like I said, in previous books there’s been a bit of this, but Milan judged better how far to take it. Here it’s just much too much. What was charming and felt like amazing characterisation in other books became tedious.

I also wasn’t particularly enamoured of the plot. There's A LOT of setup for the series, and parts just didn’t make sense. One of the things Judith is trying to do is to find one of her sisters, who was taken in by relatives and then passed along until seemingly everyone has lost track of her. First, I didn't get why Judith didn't make more of an effort to keep in touch at the start. And then there’s a point where Judith and Christian basically stop making an effort to find her, not because it made any sort of sense, but... I don't know, because Milan forgot about it? Even when they were hunting for her it felt like they would forget about it for quite a long time.

The whole thing just didn't gel together. I will be reading the next books because Milan has written such amazing books that it will take several duds in a row before I give up, but I suspect I won't be quite as excited about the next one.



Angiegirl 8 February 2016 at 18:03  

SAME. Like to the letter. I didn't even finish and am still feeling sad about it.

Barb in Maryland 9 February 2016 at 02:22  

Meh! I join you, wholeheartedly, in your disappointment.
The kittens were the final straw for me. The only character who caught my interest was the missing sister.
I didn't believe in the romance, and didn't really care about either hero or heroine.
(and I saw the plot twist about the older brother coming from the first time he was mentioned--).
I will, however, keep reading Milan's books--at least the next few.
I do believe Milan is spreading herself too thin, to the detriment of the quality of her books. I would love to be proved wrong...

Rosario 9 February 2016 at 06:27  

Both: It's kind of a relief to see it isn't just me. I always wonder when a book is late if it means that the author was having trouble with it. That's what this one felt like, like it never gelled. Eh, well, Milan's got a short story coming out soon;, I hope it's better... although it's about 2 months late already! :(

Marianne McA,  9 February 2016 at 14:46  

I'd mixed feelings about this one - I did find it an absorbing read, which is, in a way, all you can ask for.
What bothered me was that neither the hero or the heroine read as Victorian at all (apart from a couple of pages where they were momentarily patriotic) - and on the one hand, that's fine, because not everyone who lived in the Victorian era will have been what we now think of as typically Victorian - but on the other hand Milan got to choose the time period and if what she wanted to write about was a couple with modern sensibilities and beliefs falling in love, why not set the story in the present day?

Also, the housework bothered me. My mum was born in the 30s, and her mum didn't have help in the house, and she has from time-to-time described to me some of the work that involved. I'd no sense that Judith could afford help to do it all, nor that she was doing it herself.
There's a scene where the sister chucks her clothes around - and I felt that if I'd hauled a copper in, boiled the water on the range, scrubbed the clothes, rinsed the clothes, rinsed the clothes again, hung them out, brought them in, mangled them, starched them, heated irons over a fire to iron them, aired them, then tidied them away - I wouldn't have been so sanguine at seeing that much hard work disrespected. Again, Judith's reaction read to me as a modern parent's reaction rather than a Victorian sister's one.

CD,  10 February 2016 at 00:25  

That's a real pity - I've generally felt that Milan's couples don't do the tedious game-playing and artificial drama that you get in other romances. [sigh] We need more grown ups in the genre...

Talking about books featuring grown ups, where is the review of GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN??!! However, if you haven't finished CRYOBURN or even CAPTAIN VORPATRIL'S ALLIANCE, ignore me and do not even read the synopsis of the last book.

Rosario 11 February 2016 at 06:46  

Marianne: You are so right about that. I hadn't even considered the issue of what Judith exactly actually doing the housework would have involved (and I agree, it was very much implied that she had not had any help with this). And even without thinking of this, I was annoyed enough by the sister's behaviour!

CD: The funny thing is it's not the kind of stupid game-playing that's usual in other books. That is annoying, but at least it feels realistic (I have seen it enough in friends' and acquaintances' relationships!). This is something that's meant to be more subtle and more about character development, but it just doesn't work!

And yes, I will ignore you on LMB for now, because I'm not there yet! I was a bit overoptimistic thinking I'd be able to catch up before February! :(

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