Monday, July 29, 2013

Reading Courtney Milan: The "Brothers Sinister" Series

I have been ill lately, and for some of the time I was ill, the Guy was away. Never a happy situation, and the incessant rain and gloomy weather seemed to make it worse (not that I was planning to go out, anyway).

What keeps me going through something like this is reading something indulgent and absorbing enough to keep me from too much self-pity. This time, among other things, I read a few of Courtney Milan's historical romances.

I really, really liked Unraveled.* A working-class heroine, a hero who's a magistrate and has a keen interest in justice, and a seedy side of England that you rarely see in historical romances.

But what I've enjoyed even more thoroughly is the Brothers Sinister series. I started with A Kiss for Midwinter, which I read last year and loved, but didn't realize how tightly bound it is to the rest of the series. The hero, John Grantham, is one of my favorite romance heroes ever, with his sardonic wit and his dedication to his job (he's a doctor). The heroine too is amazing: cheerful and pretty like most romance heroines, but with so much strength and depth to her character.
Recently, I read the rest of the series. In order, the books are: The Governess Affair, The Duchess War, A Kiss for Midwinter, and The Heiress Effect.

There seem to be some similarities between all Milan novels (or at least the ones I've read):
  1. The hero and heroine (and many other characters) have had difficult, if not downright tragic, childhoods.
  2. The hero has a job (or some kind of work, even if not a job) and is dedicated to it.
  3. The heroine is brave: unashamed, unapologetic, proud.
  4. The heroine is also usually not the prettiest girl in the room.
  5. There is some kind of political background to the story, usually with class conflict.
All of this makes for interesting reading -- it's like Georgette Heyer without the classism and racism and misogyny! And yet each story's characters have distinct personalities.

The Governess Affair's hero is working class, a social climber born in a miner's family. The heroine, more typically, is an impoverished governess -- a governess who was raped by a duke (the hero's employer) and is now unemployed.

The Duchess War's hero is an unconventional duke -- one who wants to abolish class distinctions. (He is also the son of the duke in the earlier book.) His heroine is more than worthy of him: a smart young woman who spends her time volunteering for a group that's working for and with the city's working class. This is probably the most conventional romance of the series, with a meet-cute worthy of the most cheesy romance and a conventional ending where everything comes together in a slightly unconvincing but most thrilling way.

A Kiss for Midwinter is a detour off the main storyline of the Brothers Sinister: it's not a story about any of the brothers, but about the best friend of the duchess in the previous story. So there's less of a sense of class conflict here, but more unearthing of misogyny, of slut-shaming, and a set of wonderfully sketched characters who defy stereotyping.

The Heiress Effect is, in my opinion, the most entertaining of them all. The heroine is incomparable -- a rich young woman who is neither very pretty, nor thin (she's my size! I thought excitedly when the author offered the width of her waist), nor tasteful, nor well-behaved. In fact, she's a vulgar plump rich young woman who is rude to everyone she meets and is universally disliked -- except by her younger sister. I won't spoil it by telling you more -- read it.

The fifth book of the series isn't out yet -- I can't wait!

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