4 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
There’s lots to like about this — thoroughly interesting and believable central characters who have entirely different motivations and back stories. They are multilayered and complex: you’ve got a woman who’s pretending to be a gypsy fortune teller because she was born on the wrong side of the sheets and really has nothing else to do with a ladies’ school finishing education combined with no family name or background. The hero, as an earl who sees his title as an encumberance to his scientific pursuits, is also interesting. However, while this is a strong novel (perhaps more so because it was Milan’s debut effort), there are parts of it that take some patience to get through, and it doesn’t feel as effortless or buoyantly entertainingly as many of her other works. Still better than a lot of historical romances out there… but not my favorite Milan.
Jenny has been masquerading as Madame Esmerelda for years now, and has quite the little nest egg to show for it. She lies to people to make a living, yes, but she’s not really a thief — she comforts people and tells them what they need to hear. She’s a friend and a confidant to many of her clients, especially Ned Carhart, a young man who had been on the point of killing himself. Jenny convinced him that she could see into his future, and that one day, he would no longer be crippled by his seemingly reasonless malaise, that he would be happy, and healthy, and lead a good life.
So… when Gareth, the Marquess of Blakely, comes and swears that he will unmask Jenny for the fraud she is, of course sparks are going to fly. Jenny could just about retire from her business, but she’s not wont to admit she’s a fraud as she’s been counseling Ned for years now, and worries that admitting she’s NOT clairvoyant will make Ned doubt the rosy future she had once predicted for him.
(Gareth’s motivations are slightly more straightforward: he feels as though his young nephew is being bilked by a cunning charlatan and just wants to put a stop to it.)
They are strong protagonists who are attracted to one another not only physically, but because they genuinely enjoy competing and one-upping one another. (She predicts Gareth will meet his wife, she sets up some tasks that are designed to embarrass and humiliate him, he’s determined to follow the letter of her strictures while also sabotaging her plans, etc, etc)
This was, overall, an enjoyable read. There was a little too much “silly Ned” for me (he’s almost a bumbling fool at times, which 1. makes it hard to feel sympathy for his very real depression and 2. makes me a little less interested in the sequel, which focuses on Ned’s love story). Also, there are times when the characters aren’t as smart as you think they should be, as well as scenes that dragged a little and would really have benefited from an editor’s touch.
Comparisons to Other Authors/Books:
The fully 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 (who she’s apparently friends with… 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. My favorite is still Unclaimed, followed by Unveiled and Unraveled. The only Milans I would avoid are Unlocked and What Happened at Midnight (both novellas)… and my favorite novella by her is undoubtedly A Kiss for Midwinter.