Title: The Countess Conspiracy
Author: Courtney Milan
Publisher: Courtney Milan
Genre: historical romance
Rating: 4/5 stars
Dear Courtney Milan,
You had me at lady scientist. Really, that would’ve been enough to keep me engaged and entertained: a fun, historical romance with a lady scientist. Yay!
Then you gave me Sebastian Malheur. Sebastian Malheur, dashing rake whose scientific work on inheritance of traits has scandalized England. I’d enjoyed Sebastian in the first two books in the Brothers Sinister series and was happy to be reading a book featuring more of him. Little did I know that his turn as romantic hero would be so delightful. While Sebastian was charming and funny in the earlier books, here we learn that his defining characteristic is that he’s basically the kindest, sweetest, most generous and supportive friend ever. He’s not a romantic hero because of his rugged good looks (his appearance is barely discussed) or his alpha maleness (there isn’t any, Sebastian is a caretaker in a very traditionally feminine sense of the word) or his “greatness” (Violet is the great mind here, not Sebastian). He’s a romantic hero because no matter what, he can always make the heroine smile.
And then you gave me Violet Waterfield, widowed Countess of Cambury, the aforementioned lady scientist. Again, you had me at lady scientist. Really. That was enough.
But then you made her 34 without making her a sad, desperate spinster. She’s a widowed countess with money and consequence and the small degree of freedom granted to a woman in that position in Victorian England. Also, she’s 2 years older than Sebastian, which you just don’t see in romance much. It’s a small thing, but it’s refreshing.
Then you made her prickly and standoffish and cold. You made her say things like: “I’m not difficult. I’m simple. I like good books and clever conversation and being left alone much of the time. How does that make me difficult? I make sense. I don’t talk about my feelings, of course, but then, I don’t want to” [NOTE: I like books and conversation and being left alone much of the time too! Violet and I should be best friends] and “There is no softness in me to give. Not to you, not to anyone. No matter what you do, you’ll never find any warmth in me. It simply isn’t there.” You made her a character whose past trauma has made her feel unlovable and unworthy. You may be asking yourself, why does this make you happy? What sort of sick, twisted person gets excited about a sad, broken heroine? Well, to answer those questions we’d have to bring in my therapist, but stay with me here.
The heroine (though frankly, it’s usually the hero) who feels compelled to keep love at arm’s length as a defense mechanism because of past trauma is nothing new. But Violet felt different. There’s a sense that while some of the traits I describe above are bad (e.g. the feelings of worthlessness and unlovability), others are just a part of who she is. Of course, because this is a romance novel, Violet lets her guard down and finds love and a happy ending. That love helps her grow, and while she learns she is lovable and worthy, she doesn’t stop being distant, prickly Violet. She’s not suddenly screaming “I’M HAPPY AND IN LOVE NOW, SO LET’S TALK ABOUT FEELINGS!!” So yeah. I liked that.
Also, also, also… I should cut this short because you’re probably busy, but a few more things I loved: safe sex! having children does not define your worth! consent is important! chromosomes! maybe not everyone has to get married! hiding journal articles in a fashion magazine!
So, anyway. Thank you for your book! It was most enjoyable.