courtney milan

Book review: The Duchess War

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Courtney Milan has already become an automatic read for me. She’s proven her brilliance with her craft and I always appreciate the unconventionality of her stories. In a genre such as historical romance, which does not experience a dearth in quantity of material, it is such a great feat for a writer to set herself apart from the others and in a good way. Courtney Milan does that with every single one of her books and her latest is yet another example of how good a writer she truly is.

 

Book Blurb:

“Miss Minerva Lane is a quiet, bespectacled wallflower, and she wants to keep it that way. After all, the last time she was the center of attention, it ended badly—so badly that she changed her name to escape her scandalous past. Wallflowers may not be the prettiest of blooms, but at least they don’t get trampled. So when a handsome duke comes to town, the last thing she wants is his attention.

But that is precisely what she gets.

Because Robert Blaisdell, the Duke of Clermont, is not fooled. When Minnie figures out what he’s up to, he realizes there is more to her than her spectacles and her quiet ways. And he’s determined to lay her every secret bare before she can discover his. But this time, one shy miss may prove to be more than his match…”

 

Let me count the ways I love this book:

 

As always, the first thing that struck me is the unconventionalities that the story presents the readers, starting from the main characters where you have a heroine who’s smart, street-smart, strategy-smart, and strong-willed, and a hero who’s pretty much the anti-thesis of the conventional brooding and rakish heroes of the genre. In fact, the heroine has a scar on her face and the hero is a romantic at heart. They’re just both strong people in that they have survived the ugliness of their childhood pasts.

 

I love the running theme of discovering the true character or essence of a person beyond the physical, beyond a title, beyond a name, beyond the past. Minnie, the heroine, assumes another name in order to escape a past and hides behind a quiet demeanor to keep her past from catching up to her. Robert, the hero, is a duke, a member of the realm. But he is also a radical and the change that he wants done, to abolish the peerage. He fully knows the privileges that his title has brought him but at the same time he has this innate belief that such privileges are the causes of abuse and he abhors that impunity does not pay because people are protected by their titles and their wealth. I love that these two people are not who people see them to be and the first one to discover the true person underneath it all, the first one to see through the mist of illusion is each other.

 

I love Minnie but Robert is really the shining character in this book for me. He defies every conventional trait of the supposed ‘hero’ of a novel: he’s a duke but he’s embarassed by his title and his wealth and he even wants to abolish the institution that has made him such; he’s not a rake, in fact, he’s even (GASP) a virgin; and last but not the least, he’s a romantic. Despite the rejection and disillusionment that his parents’ marriage showed him, he still believes in love. However, he does not believe that he will experience it. Until he met Minnie, that is. The scene where he realizes that he loves Minnie offers one of my favorite lines from Robert and just displays the brilliance of Milan’s writing:

It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in love. The thought of love was like water in the desert. Now there was a stupid cliché, one that made him think of a man in ragged clothing staggering through the Sahara, searching for an oasis among the sand dunes.

 

But the Antarctic was a desert, too—a cold desert, one made dry because water there turned to ice the instant it hit the air.

 

So he believed in love. He’d always believed in love. He’d been surrounded by water all his life; it had simply been frozen solid. He’d loved as hard as he dared and watched it freeze before his face. It was no surprise now when he checked his feelings and discovered that he loved her. The surprise was that this time, when he dared to take a sip, he found water instead of ice.

 

Her characters, even the secondary ones, are well-fleshed out. They don’t seem like characters in a book; they’re like real people. They make mistakes. They make wrong decisions. They’re flawed, basically. And human. But then you understand them and what they’ve been through and you stand behind them just the same. That’s great writing. 

 

Last but not the least, the story itself was unconventional. What I love about Milan’s writing is that she takes a conventional premise and then somehow manages to transform it into something new, something not cliche. When you think that the story would go this particular way, she surprises you because it takes a detour and goes to an opposite direction. And it works. She doesn’t divide her universe and her characters in blacks and whites; there are always grays and colors. And again, that’s great writing.

 

All in all, this is another A-grade piece by Courtney Milan. I can’t wait for the next installment in her Brothers Sinister series. And for those who haven’t read her other books, you should try them. They’re good.

 

Rating: 5/5 stars

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