She’s a crafty one, that Courtney Milan, with her Brothers Sinister series. Gives readers a dose of history along with the tried and true format of a romance series centering around a group of siblings. Makes them think, she does, about facets other authors might not weight so heavily. Makes them care, too, slipping the parents of future heroes in under the guise of a prequel, The Governess Affair. Oh yes, she’ll give us a fine romance, and we’ll love her for it, but best be warned, she’ll pull back a veil or two, and certain aspects of the nineteenth century may never look the same.
In The Governess Affair, Milan begins as she means to go on, introducing us to Serena Barton, recently unemployed and unwilling to take that lying down. Which, as we soon learn, is part of why she is currently unemployed. Unemployment is never easy, but in an age where women’s rights were still in question, and sexual harassment was meant to be borne rather than fought, Serena’s insistence on reparations makes her a force to be reckoned with, and not by the man who did her wrong. That task falls instead to Hugo Marshall, who knows all too well the struggle to make a place for oneself in a world where privilege holds sway. Hugo may have a job to do, but he has a conscience as well, and it goes against his duty. Together, Hugo and Serena learn that true nobility comes from spirit rather than blood, and that love, as well as blood, can make a family strong.
The Brothers (and one Sister) Sinister are men (and woman) of their time, but does that mean that all men of the era thought and believed exactly the same way? Not a chance, and it’s that diversity that gives the Brothers Sinister that certain something.
Robert and Minnie of The Duchess War meet while in hiding, he behind the curtains and she behind a sofa. Robert wants some solitude. Minnie wants to be invisible, because women who get noticed get into trouble, and she’s had more than enough of that, thank you very much. Robert is a duke, yes, but he’s well aware of the previous duke’s failings, and he sees the men and women upon whose labor his livelihood depends as people, not cogs in a machine. He sees, also, the true Minnie, helping her find the courage she needs to stand up and make her presence known at exactly the right moment. We feel Minnie’s fear, understand her reservations, but when she at last chooses to cast them aside and stand up for truth, readers can’t help but stand up and cheer.
Lovers of medical romance won’t want to miss A Kiss For Midwinter, where Victorian medical ethics have never been more romantic. Jonas Grantham, a young doctor plagued by the memory of one moment of silence when, by speaking up, he might have saved a life. Lydia Charingford has mixed feelings about Christmas, the traditions haunted by a traumatic memory of pain and loss. Had Jonas given voice to the truth he was too afraid to speak, all those years ago, Lydia’s life would be vastly different. Can he ever make it up to her, and more importantly, will she allow him the chance?
The Heiress Effect brings us two love stories, sisters Jane and Emily Fairfield. Jane dresses horribly, says and does all the wrong things, and works hard to do it, all in a bid to fend off suitors after her massive dowry. Marrying would leave Emily, who has epilepsy, at the hands of their controlling uncle whose attempts to keep Emily “safe” are squeezing the life out of her. Their heroes? Oliver Marshall, a budding politician who has progressive ideas about voter reform, and Anjan Bhattacharya, a law student who refuses to shed his Indian identity to forge a life in England. Can a story dealing with social awkwardness, emotional abuse, politics, the British occupation of India, epilepsy and patients’ rights be even the slightest bit romantic? Exquisitely so, and made all the richer for the obstacles both couples must overcome to seize their HEAs.
Evolution, misogyny, infertility, secret identities, mommy issues and bursting free of the friend zone all shore up the romance in The Countess Conspiracy, where brilliant scientist Violet Waterford has only one problem; respectable women don’t do scientific research into the newly opened field of genetics. What’s a girl to do? Rely on her best friend, of course. Sebastian Malheur becomes Violet’s scientific Cyrano, lauded for presenting the discoveries of Violet’s experiments…until he can’t do it anymore, and battle lines are drawn. This book contains romantic declarations concealed as scientific data, and a surprising twist at the end that puts Violet’s turbulent relationship with her mother in a whole new light.
In these books, Courtney Milan balances emotional romance with the often difficult facts of life in Victorian England. It’s not always the easiest environment in which to live, but true love is up to even the most seemingly insurmountable of challenges.
Anna C. Bowling considers writing historical romance the best way to travel through time and make the voices in her head pay rent. She welcomes visitors to her blog, Typing with Wet Nails and to follow her at Twitter.