5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
So this 5 out of 5 star review is less shiny than my review for Unclaimed (which I thought was close to perfect), but having said that, this is just wonderful. You’ve got a simply fabulous male hero, one who is charming, loyal, and street smart with just a hint of insecurity in a way that makes him feel both layered and believable. He’s the type of character who makes you sigh, because you’re half in love with him by the end of the book. And, as a match, you’ve got a slight spin on the managing spinster, in that she was once one of those boring debutantes… before she was bastardized by legal machinations. I’ve been told that the legal/history part of this book isn’t accurate (it’s a major plot point, though it doesn’t really matter other than as a large McGuffin), but I can’t really confirm or deny that, and it didn’t really detract from what I thought was truly a very well done historical romance.
Ash Turner is the eldest of the Turner brothers and believes himself to be responsible for the well-being of his younger brothers. His father passed away when he was young, and his mother, well… she went mad. Not mad in the funny-ha-ha she was eccentric way, but mad in that she became hysterically devout, donated all of their worldly possessions, refused to get a physician when her young daughter got sick, and gave her children Biblical verses instead of just names. So. Very, very, very mad.
Ash ends up leaving when he’s fourteen, taking a voyage to India and trying to make his fortune. By the time he returns, he’s rich and powerful, but his brothers have more or less been trying to survive (and were starving) on the streets. Ash sent them to good schools, made them huge allowances, but has never felt as though he has the same bond with either of them as they do with each other, and has never gotten over feeling as though he abandoned them (which he did, for both his own benefit and theirs).
His latest scheme is that he’s going to procure a dukedom from the man he believes is partially responsible for ruining his family. He takes up residence at the ailing (current) duke’s manor, and falls immediately in lust (and probably shortly thereafter in love) with Margaret, whom he believes is the old Duke’s nurse.
Ok… the contrived part here is the “nurse” is really Lady Margaret, the aging duke’s now-bastardized-through-Ash’s-strategem’s daughter. She is clearly attracted to Ash, but she was supposed to stay on as a spy, to help her brothers in their claim to the dukedom and legacy, and to protect their father (in case Ash would try to do physical harm to the duke).
Often, a mistaken-identity thing plays out quite aggravatingly, but this was actually not bad. It did drag on a little longer than I would have liked, and there were several obvious missed opportunities for clearing things up earlier, but there weren’t the stereotypical fights and hysterics that sometimes follows. Overall, the characters were layered, well drawn, and with lots of hints of humor. Some of the loose ends are only partially resolved, but in a way that was still satisfying (it was clear that Milan knew what all the loose ends were, and was just choosing to have some remain somewhat ambiguous… which I respected). I was drawn in almost immediately, and my first reaction, upon finishing it was: I need more, more, more! (always the sign of a very well-written series!)
Comparisons to Other Authors:
The ully fleshed out characters make me think of the better of Lisa Kleypas’s, Julia Quinn’s or Sherry Thomas’s works. Milan has a heck of a vocabulary on her, and everything is just very smoothly written (like Lisa Kleypas in terms of well drawn characters, but a little less hit-me-with-a-thesaurus than Sherry Thomas). Sensuality-wise, she’s definitely below Stephanie Laurens and probably more similar to Julia Quinn. Humor-wise, I’d say she’s somewhere along the lines of a Tessa Dare (but a little more serious). And drama-wise, she has setups that remind me of Kat Martin or Amanda Quick, but these resolve in a less-dramatic-and-more-believably layered way.