Rameau and Anachronist love Courtney Milan so today I am giving the floor over to them both. Go crazy girls ;)
This discussion contains several more or less significant spoilers. If you are spoiler-sensitive and you haven’t read The Duchess War yet (honestly, what are you waiting for?) you might want to avert your eyes. Still we also talk about sex so perhaps averting your eyes is not such a clever thing to do. Oh well. Anyway the choice is entirely yours - you have been warned.
Ana: An aristocrat and a mouse - it seems a very cliche pairing, don’t you think?
Ram: Well, if you were to tell me only that and not the author’s name I’d probably move on and look for something else to read first instead. I’d probably grab an M/M book.
Ana: Ok, so let’s imagine I did mention the author and the fact that the mouse in question can play chess and has to hide her identity...what would your reaction be then?
Ram: With gushing or sans gushing?
Ana: LOL gush if you want.
Ram: I so rarely get the opportunity. It’d probably be like this: OMG OMG I can’t wait to see how Milan turns this cliché on its head and shows the world how it should be done. I can’t wait to read it!!!!11!!
Ana: I agree that a Milan romance novel contains always something surprising. What was the biggest surprise here for you personally?
Ram: Hey, didn’t we skip a part? Where you tell me how you’d react to such a premise before hearing who has written it and then after you know it’s a Milan book. And go:
Ana: LOL ok, backpedalling a bit. I would like to read it of course. Sans OMG. It is still a romance book, nothing to write home about ;p I admit that if you mentioned ‘awkward sex’ as well I would be a tad more interested. Strategy of course works even better.
Ram: It’s like I have a whole another set of expectations for a Milan book than I have for any other. The awkward sex was magnificent and surprisingly arousing for reader, but it’s something I’d definitely forget to mention because I expect certain level of realism from the author that I don’t expect from others. You mentioned the strategy and I agree, it’s fun to see a character, a young woman in a historical fiction, to plan ahead, but as you said in your review, I don’t think it was fully realised here. I didn’t get the sense that Minnie was planning her life three or six steps ahead and it just made me want to read about a heroine who does. Remember that rant of mine how I want to see Milan write a book about heroine who intentionally traps a man into marriage and falls for him anyway? Well, that just evolves and now I want to see a series about such women. I should probably take a breath and let you say something.
Ana: Something. Is it enough? ;D
Your ideas are so interesting that I don’t intend to break your train of thought.
Ram: As I was saying... The biggest surprise for me was that I didn’t think Milan did everything she could have with this book and the character. I read on her website that Brothers Sinister series heroines have one thing in common and that’s the fact they’ve been ruined. In theory it sounds wonderful as it voids the expectations—fears more likely—of a romance heroine ingenue that’s too good to be anything but boring to read about. Ruined heroines are more interesting.
Ana: My biggest surprise came when Minnie realized (a bit too late I should add) that marrying that son of a miller wouldn’t bring her the much-wanted stabilization and security. I mean it was TOO LATE for such an intelligent girl. Almost too late. She should have done her strategic thinking right after he showed any interest. It was out of her character.
Ram: That’s part of what I meant. The part that she wasn’t thinking ahead far enough, but at the same time I bought it because of her identity crisis.
Ana: Identity crisis? Right... I am not sure I was aware of it at first - not before she started to change under the influence of the Duke and his outlandish ideas.
Ram: I guess I have an advantage over you in this because I did read Milan’s novella What Happened At Midnight, the one she wrote for the Midnight Scandals anthology.
Ana: I haven’t read it, that’s true.
Ram: In it, there’s another version of a girl being ruined by her father, hiding away, hiding her secret and changing herself to avoid detection. I can’t remember the exact moment, but very early on in the book I realised there were some similarities, so I was able to anticipate some of the turmoil Minnie would be going through and why it would happen. I expected Milan to explore that side of her character further.
Ana: I see. There is another moment, then. Minnie has changed. She is safely married to her Duke. He receives a letter about the imprisonment of Olivier Marshall, his half brother. And what do they do? They board a train and have sex like a pair of bunnies. Where is that strategic thinking I ask?
Ram: I think her strategy was in distracting her husband from worrying about things he couldn’t change while they were on the train. And after that the book kind of shifted to deal with his problematic past. That could also explain part of the pacing problems I saw. Milan couldn’t quite find a balance between giving both Minnie and Robert time to fall in love, to start to trust each other, and to play together as they must have learned to do during those four skipped years before the epilogue. Maybe the book had been better if they’d started to play together against a common enemy from the start while still distrusting each other. What do you think?
Ana: I definitely agree with you on that one. Which leads straight to their very rushed marriage and their first night together. They even didn’t have enough time to find out each other’s preferences and dislikes in advance. It was well...awkward.
Ram: Why must there always be a special licence in these things? That’s another thing I’d like to see them get rid of. Milan didn’t need to hurry to get to the sex because she’d already written good masturbation scenes, so it really didn’t make sense. And just think how it would have been had they got married after the trial.
Ana: Yes, that ‘special license marriage’ is starting to be one of my minor pet peeves. Ok, let not disappoint our dear hostess, Blodeuedd, and tackle that scene when two virgins go to bed and try to make it worthwhile ;p
Ram: I KNEW IT! was my reaction to it. Unclaimed was my first Milan novel and it too had a virgin hero and I loved it. Here, she chose a more subtle approach and it really paid off in that wedding night scene. Don’t you think?
Ana: It was funny and it was right. What bothered me was once again how FAST they managed to make it right. Correct me if I am mistaken but I suppose it takes more than just one attempt, no matter how enthusiastic, to attune to each other and here...oh, the wonderful world of fiction where miracles are the order of the day!!!
Ram: I did mention the masturbation scenes, didn’t I? It’s infinitely easier to become attuned to someone else’s desires when they themselves know what they like. Speaking as someone who had her first time with another virgin and neither of us knew what we were doing I can only say that if I could have done it again, I’d begged Mum to tell me more about the importance of masturbation. As if she didn’t talk about sex enough while I was growing up.
Ana: Have you noticed that there was no hymenal laceration?
Ram: I noticed, but though because she wasn’t a teenager and had learned to ride at some point of her life that it was choice on the author’s part to avoid the gore.
Ana: Hmm...I think I missed that part when she speaks about riding a horse regularly but I did read pretty quickly so it is entirely possible. Yes, I would rather say it was deliberate - not to make Minnie too sore in order to let them continue day in day out.
Ram: She did ride to the town in pouring rain to show Lydia’s father the damning evidence against Robert.
Ana: It takes more than that. It should be a habit and believe me I speak about my own experiences.
Ram: Or it could just be another aspect of the pacing issues.
Ana: Overall how would you assess this novel, when comparing it to other Milan books, published so far?
Ram: We’re almost making it sound like we didn’t like it. But overall, you say. It’s not her best. I think she’s evolving as a storyteller and I’m pretty sure I will love this Brothers Sinister series more than I love the Un-series, but on a technical side it’s definitely not her best. Unclaimed and Unraveled were better on the pacing front.
Ana: I quite agree with you again. I hope, as the first novel in a new series it has the right to be the weakest and the rest would be far better. Unraveled has been my favourite so far, Unclaimed is, in my view, the second best.