4 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
Truthfully, this is not her best novel. It’s somewhere between average to above average if I were to place it on my all-time-Courtney-Milan-fan-girl-list. But here’s the thing: a slightly above-average Courtney Milan novel is still, in my mind, far better than most of the other historical romance out there, and thus a must buy. This one is a particular must if you’re at all geeky, have ever had any anxiety or I’m-not-worthy issues (despite being intelligent) and if you’re at all interested in the idea of women in science, especially within the context of their past situations. The female protagonist is interesting (though at times a bit cliched) and the male is a Milan-typical-super-male which means that even his faults are pretty cool. There are times where the romance gets a bit subsumed by everything else happening (and the romantic climax is definitely separate to and distinct from the normal one here), but otherwise, it’s very solid, engrossing read.
In Greater Detail (some spoilers, with a separate section on triggers, at the end)
Truthfully this is the novel I’ve been least looking forward to in the Brothers Sinister (because they’re all left-handed). Sebastian, even though he’s supposed to be this much-debated, highly scandalous rake and scientist (Darwinist ideas and papers, le gasp!) never seemed particularly intriguing to me, and Violet, though she’s also made cameo appearances in the other novels never really had anything for me to hold onto. They squabble with one another, and it’s obvious they’re meant to be, but beyond that, I was kind of meh about the idea of them in a book.
That said, Milan makes them immediately more interesting within the first chapter (spoilers ahead, last warning): it’s revealed that Violet has been the mastermind behind all of the papers about inheritance and traits (pollinating seeds, looking at traits and data tables). Sebastian has merely been… her mouthpiece. But, he declares, no more. He has other things going on in his life: his older brother is dying, for one, and he’s hoping to be named his nephew’s guardian, something he won’t really be able to do if their masquerade continues.
So… some pros:
1. Love all the scientific details and the power-to-women stuff happening throughout the book (though she’s taken some liberties, it’s all in good fun)
2. Violent is an interesting character who (mostly) works.
3. Sebastian is (of course) the hero who says all the right, completely swoon-worthy things that makes any female reader want to take notes and slip them to their spouse.
1. In general, I’m not a fan of the I’ve-always-loved-you trope, which is what we’re expected to believe of Sebastian here. I feel like it usually robs us of the falling-in-love action which is, come on, the main point of reading a romance, right? That said, Milan does a pretty good job selling us on the “whys” in their back-story, and you mostly buy it and are invested.
2. In an effort to make Sebastian seem less perfect,some of the back-story details revealed at the end felt… overly convenient and a little too dark.
3. There are some cliched aspects to their personalities (Violet especially) that get a little overdone sometimes (I think) making it feel like it’s more misunderstanding-driven than usual (for a Milan read).
Though… like I said, cons aside, there are some GREAT scenes, some wonderful dialog, the “seduction” of Violet is swoon-worthy and there’s no real reason NOT to buy this if you tend to generally like Milan’s work. Yes, there are parts when the side plot overwhelms some of the main plot, but this is still a love story at its core and you believe and really become invested in their personal journeys (as people and together as a couple).
Now, Some Trigger-ific Spoilers
I got to reveal some (to me) trigger-y-seeming spoilers, just in case it will help someone. I know that I read romance as a form of escape which means that I don’t always appreciate when darker subjects cloud my escapist romance.
So, severe spoilers ahead.
You’ve been warned.
There’s no rape, but there’s definitely very-bad-sex in terms of Violet’s last husband (and some emotional abuse). There’s at least references to murder and/or suicide (both, you know, darker), as well as a dead sibling (not to mention the dying sibling), and lastly, the main protagonist has suffered many miscarriages (something I guessed from early on but wasn’t revealed until the latter half).
Comparison to Other Authors/Books:
Just read the this.