Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tuesday Review: Unclaimed

By Courtney Milan
Publisher: HQN
Release Date: September 20, 2011
Five Stars

Weary of the attention and adulation that have followed in the wake of his book, A Gentleman’s Practical Guide to Chastity, Sir Mark Turner leaves London behind and retreats to Shepton Mallet, his childhood home, in search of peace and anonymity. He does escape the crowds that followed him in the city, but even in this country town he cannot escape veneration and the extremes of the Male Chastity Brigade.
Another new resident of Shepton Mallet, Jessica Farleigh, a dark-haired beauty with a mysterious smile and an equally mysterious past, attracts a very different kind of attention from that awarded Mark. But even her sternest critics don’t suspect Jessica’s true reason for leaving London. Hired by a man who fears Mark is about to be given a political position the man wants for himself, Jessica is a courtesan set to seduce Mark and expose him as a hypocrite to those who view him as the champion of male chastity.

Although far from immune to Jessica’s beauty, Mark easily resists her early, obvious attempt at seduction. But as they spend more time together, his liking for her increases, as does his appreciation for her intelligence, wit, and other qualities that make her uniquely herself. He wants more than her body. He wants her to share his life.
It is his desire to make her his wife that pushes Jessica to tell Mark the truth. Her conscience has troubled her through most of their relationship, but her need for the money that will allow her to survive and to free herself from a courtesan’s life is stronger than her conscience. But while she is willing to ruin Mark’s reputation, she cannot bring herself to accept his proposal and ruin his life. The truth leads to heartbreak, but it also—eventually—sets them free for an HEA.

Mark is a rare character, a genuinely good, deeply human man who is comfortable in his own skin. He is a virgin by choice, and Milan makes certain her readers understand that it is a choice made from knowledge rather than ignorance. Mark eloquently explains his choice to Jessica.

“It cheapens what I’ve accomplished,” Mark said, “to imagine me a saint. To believe I am untempted, that I pass through this life without feeling lust or want or desire. I said it in the first chapter of my book, and yet nobody seems to believe me. Chastity is hard.

“I hadn’t thought—”

“I want. I lust. I desire.” He scrubbed his hand through sandy blond hair at that, shaking his head. “No. You’re right. You don’t deserve euphemisms. I want
you. I lust after you. I desire you.

She might have been the only woman in the world, pinned by his gaze.

“But what I don’t do is act.”

Too frequently for my tastes a “strong heroine” in romance fiction is synonymous with a heroine who seems to be a character in costume, a 21st-century woman in 19th-century dress. In Jessica, Milan gives readers a character who possesses a survivor’s strengths and yet is a woman of her own time, a time when a double standard was entrenched and one misstep was enough to make a woman an outcast. Jessica hates that she can be owned by a man, but she accepts responsibility for her choices. Thus she proves herself an adult woman in a world that would make her no more than a horse or a falcon to be purchased, trained, and possessed. She becomes, as Mark declares her, “her own knight.”

I love these characters. I love that they are adults with intelligence, imperfections, histories, and humor, and I love their self-knowledge and the ways it increases throughout the book. I love the gender reversal of a virginal hero and an experienced heroine out to ruin him. I love the relationship between the brothers. I love the chiaroscuro of the book. I love the lucid grace of the prose. Sentimentalist that I am, I even loved the ending, which may seem too contrived for some readers.

Unclaimed can be read as a standalone, but readers of the first book will have a richer context for Mark’s character and for the bonds that unite him with his brothers. It is the second novel in Milan’s Turner series, preceded by Unveiled (Ash’s book) and to be followed by Unraveled (Smite’s book) later this year. I am eager to read Smite’s book.

Are you a fan of virginal heroes? Courtesan heroines? Gender reversals?


quantum said...

Courtney first attracted me as an author with a scientific background on the EJ/JQ BB author of the month spot. I read the debut novel 'Proof by Seduction' which I greatly enjoyed.

Unveiled is not yet available on Amazon UK as an ebook but I'm waiting eagerly for the chance to read it. Your review of 'Unclaimed' has wetted my appetite very nicely Janga.

The gender reversal concept with the virginal hero sounds interesting with huge potential for amusing and moving scenes.

Courtney is clearly drawing on her scientific training to experiment in this way.

Stirring the cauldron to see what pops out? *grin*

PJ said...

Courtney has become an auto-buy for me and this one has been on my "must buy" list for awhile. Can't wait to read it!

I do enjoy role reversals from time to time, including virgin heroes. Eloisa James wrote a terrific one in Simeon Jermyn from When the Duke Returns.

MsHellion said...

I am not a fan of virgin heroes (at all), but your review at least makes me curious to give it a shot. *LOL* It sounds like a really good book.

And I learned a new word today: chiaroscuro. So thank you!!!

Janga said...

Q, I hope Unclaimed is available as an ebook in the UK soon. it really is a terrific book, and I agree that there's something especially exciting about the book releases of the EJ/JQ BB alums.

Janga said...

PJ, I know you'll love Unclaimed. Reading it made me think of some other favorite books that feature virgin heroes. When The Duke Returns is certainly one. Barbara Metzger's Snowdrops and Scandalbroth is another.

Janga said...

Hellie, I hope you do try Unclaimed. I think it's CM's best yet.

And I couldn't resist chiaroscuro. It's one of those words I love and seldom have an opportunity to use. LOL