Milan, Courtney: (100.5-101.5) “The Governess Affair,” The Duchess War, “A Kiss for Midwinter”

I had a serious case of “don’t wanna” for the book I “should” have been reading, so I took a short excursion into historical romance with two novellas and a novel in Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister series.

I’d previously read the prequel novella, “The Governess Affair,” because I’d heard friends talking about this author, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Serena wants a Duke to compensate her for getting her fired, and is prepared to make quite a fuss to get what she ways; Hugo is the Duke’s problem-solver who needs her to go away, not out of loyalty to the Duke, but because it’s part of his path to financial independence. Sparks, naturally, fly–I particularly liked their note-passing. I liked them, I liked their dilemmas, and I liked the way the story was focused on issues of sexual consent.

The first novel, The Duchess War, is set a generation later. This is kind of a mixed bag. I read it quickly in a haze of sleep deprivation, and the banter and the angst was fine for that. But while I can see that it attempts to do something substantive with its class issues–it’s set in 1863 England and union organizing is nominally the springboard for its plot–even in my fuzzy state I could tell that it wasn’t engaging with those issues in a very sensible way. (There is more, with spoilers, over at Dear Author; I’m in agreement with the general sense if not all the details.) I liked what it did with some of the character relationships, I liked that the main sex scene was awkward and then got better after actual, you know, communication, but a good deal of it feels like it doesn’t bear much thinking about.

The side novella “A Kiss for Midwinter” is kind of a mess, unfortunately, even when read in the same haze of sleep deprivation. It’s about Minnie’s best friend Lydia and a local doctor, who she dislikes because he knows she’d been pregnant out of wedlock (she miscarried). But the characters don’t particularly click individually or together, and the not-very-subtext ends up undercutting the explicitly feminist message. More detail, again with spoilers, from coffeeandink.

At any rate, I do really like “The Governess Affair,” and I appreciate what the other stories set out to do even if I don’t think they always fully succeed. I look forward to seeing how Milan continues to attempt to integrate broader social issues now that she’s self-published, as well as going back to her prior books.

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