Title: The Suffragette Scandal
Author: Courtney Milan
Publisher: Courtney Milan
Genre: romance, historical romance
Rating: 4/5 stars
We first met Frederica “Free” Marshall in The Heiress Effect where she was introduced as Oliver Marshall’s precocious, suffragette sister. I hate to admit, in spite of my excitement to see a suffragette, porto-feminist character in a romance, I found her a little unbearable. She was just a little too much: too stubborn, too self-assured, too determined to CHANGE THE WORLD! I know, I know… these are things I like in a romance heroine, but in The Heiress Effect it comes off feeling unearned sort of shoved down the reader’s throat. Sort of like… hey look how great Free is! So, I was a bit wary starting The Suffragette Scandal, to be sure. I just really didn’t want this to be a book about her making her plucky way through Cambridge where she butts heads with some slightly misogynistic at first love interest whom she’ll show the way.
Fortunately, this is a very different book than I was expecting. We skip past Cambridge entirely to find Free running a successful feminist newspaper. She’s earned the ire of our dastardly villain, a would-be Marquis who is still smarting because Free refused to sleep with him. In walks Edward Clark, a scoundrel and rogue whose aristocratic family turned their backs on him years before. Edward is out for revenge against his family (the would-be Marquis) and will happily use Free and her paper to reach his ends. Flirting about typesetting ensues. There is nefarious plotting, counter-plotting, and counter-counter-plotting. There’s a really sweet romance subplot between two female characters. There’s our hero doing something stupid that might drive the heroine away for good, but in the end, it’s a romance and we get happily ever after for all the characters we like.
Given that this is the fourth review I’ve written of one of Courtney Milan’s books in the past six weeks, I’m not sure how much more there is to say about this one. She managed to turn me around on Free, who is still the same plucky, stubborn, excessively self-confident character, but she’s shown to also be hyper-competent and a realist about what she’s doing and how change is effected. When Edward questions the efficacy of her work, she responds:
…we chip away at that wall, day by day. It will come down someday… You see a river rushing by without end. You see a sad collection of women with thimbles, all dipping out an inconsequential amount… But we’re not trying to empty the Thames… Look at what we’re doing with the water we remove. It doesn’t go to waste. We’re using it to water our gardens, sprout by sprout. We’re growing bluebells and clovers where once there was a desert. All you see is the river, but I care about the roses.
There’s also some really great, biting criticism about feminism and misogyny that rings painfully true in the context of how women are often treated on the internet. Free runs a feminist newspaper which earns her about the same level of harassment one gets, say suggesting it might be nice to have more female characters in video games. When the hero, yet again, tells her that what she’s doing is dangerous and never going to work, her response is genius. It’s a long quote, but bear with me.
What I don’t understand is why you think you need to lecture me about this all. I run a newspaper for women. Do you imagine that nobody has ever written to me to explain precisely what you just said?…Do you suppose I’ve never been told that I’m upset because I am menstruating? That I would calm down if only some man would put a child in my belly? Usually, the person writing offers to help out with that very task… Shall I tell you what someone painted on my door one midnight? Or do you want to read the letters I receive?…I know the obstacles women face. I know them better than you ever will.
Bam. Don’t you go mansplaining to Free.
So yeah, I really liked this book. I am focusing primarily on the feminist elements because they make me so happy, but the romance is really good too – sweet and built so much more on respect and admiration than I’m used to seeing in a lot of romances. Milan has created a great little world in this series, and it was a pleasure to revisit characters from earlier books. And honestly, the flirting about typesetting was amazing. All good stuff.
But really? Feminist romance FTW!