Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review: The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan


Click here to buy the book on Amazon

This is actually the third draft of this review and I still can't figure out a way to write this and give the book the praise it deserves. It is a wonderfully written story -- and Courtney Milan's most experimental endeavor to date:

Here's why you should read this book:
1. If you have been following this series, The Heiress Effect presents an interesting reflection on history repeating itself.
Jane Fairfield grew up in the country with no guidance. At 19, she discovered that she was an heiress and was thrust into the social spotlight with no preparation, no training in social graces. It was not a surprise that she ended up a complete disaster. Now that she is of age, and in complete control of her inheritance and continues to repel potential suitors with her garish outfits and her outrageous manners. But this is all part of Jane's plan: she must remain unmarried for another year and a half if she wants to protect her younger sister from their very managing, very controlling, very restrictive uncle.

Oliver Marshall has mapped out a grand future for himself, including, someday, becoming prime minister. But, first, he must win the vote on the Reform Bill. If he wins the vote, it will cement his reputation as a politician and is a step one in achieving his dream. One man holds the key to a block of 9 votes, which would mean either Oliver's victory or defeat and the Marquess of Brandenton wants something in exchange: Jane's humiliation.

For half of his life, Oliver was happy being Serena and Hugo Marshall's son. Then the Duke of Clermont walks into his life, acknowledges him and changes the course of Oliver's life forever. He enjoyed all the benefits of being a duke's son and a duke's brother, gaining access to Eton and then Cambridge and he also experienced all the disadvantages of being the bastard son and bastard brother of a duke.

It took Oliver a while, but he finally figured out his place in society: to be quiet, to be observant, to agree -- to be "part of the proper order" (loc 635) -- for the longest time, Oliver was fine with his role and his place -- he used his position to get things done without seeming too overreaching or ambitious -- but Jane Fairfield's arrival changes everything for him. Who is this woman who can't seem to stay put in the box she was placed in? Who is this woman who keeps overstepping the boundaries set by society? She is the most infuriating, most scandalous woman Oliver has ever met -- and she also happens to be the bravest, boldest, most attractive woman Oliver has ever met.

Oliver is caught between his ambition and the fate of one woman. It is a very similar situation his father, Hugo, found himself in in The Governess Affair. Hugo chose the woman and lost all chances at the dream he had worked on all his life. Oliver saw the outcome of his father's choice. He knows the right thing to do but will he do it?

2. I also really, really loved Milan's take on story as both fiction and reality.
There are a lot of stories in The Heiress Effect: there's the story about his father and his mother and the Duke of Clermont. That one is true. There's the story of Jane Fairfield and her one hundred thousand pounds. That one is also true.

But there are also the stories that our characters have woven: Oliver brokering the vote for the Reform Bill, which will put him in the spotlight and is a step forward in his plans to be prime minister. In his mind, Oliver already knows how his story will begin and end: with the perfect wife/political ally and the admiration of everyone who dared ridicule and belittle him as a Duke's bastard son.

There is also Jane's story, about how she is pretending to be a magnified, more offensive version of herself, to ward off people for a year and half, just long enough until her younger sister comes of age and they could finally leave her uncle and live happily together.

It's interesting that we use the word "story" to refer to something factual and also to something fictional. There is a push/pull between the two definitions as Jane and Oliver, and Emily and Anjan, sort out the stories of their lives. Which ones are real? Which stories will they participate in? How will they come about their happy endings?

"...I'm just telling you a story, that's all."

A story. A story. She swallowed, trying to envision the story that would follow. It wouldn't be an easy life, that much she knew. He rarely talked about how he was treated, but she hadn't received the impression that many people were kind. Quite the reverse. And that would be what she entered into? That would be what her children would experience? She felt too young for children, let alone for a decision of this magnitude. She wrapped her arms around her waist.

"Here's another story," she said quietly. "I'm not of age. My uncle hasn't even let me come out because of my fits. He would never let me marry." ...

"Would you?" he asked. "Would you consider the wait, if we were in a story?"

But as much as she'd pretended this was an escape, this wasn't a story.
- (Anjan and Emily) loc 2762

* * *

She sighed. "The stories never mention that saddles built for one rather than two make your backside go numb. Also" -- she turned in the saddle, just enough that he had to hold her more tightly from slipping -- "did you know that your thighs are extremely hard? And I thought the squabs of the carriage were uncomfortable."

"You'd like it even less if I had pillowy thighs," Oliver replied.

She leaned back against him. "Mmm. Pillowy thighs. Those would be lovely right now. Thighs that I could shut my eyes and sink into. Your thighs are like oak logs. Very unrestful."

"Yes, but here's the problem. If I had pillowy thighs, I would have reached down to swing you atop my fiery gelding, and when I tried to heft you in the air, I would have dropped you. 'Damn it!' I'd proclaim. 'I just threw my back!'"

She laughed softly.

"All the stories are wrong," he told her.

He meant it just how he said it -- they were filled with falsehoods and euphemisms. But he also meant it how he didn't say it: that they were wrong to be here.
- (Oliver and Jane) loc 3970

The idea of story as fact and fiction takes on a very poignant, very tearful turn when Courtney Milan introduces the two Freddys. Frederica the elder is Oliver and Free's aunt who is agoraphobic. Frederica the younger is known as Free and is everything Oliver was at her age: confident, daring, secure in her abilities and her place in this world. (Read Chapters 17 and 28-29)

3. It's "experimental" --
Jane and Oliver's love story happens in two parts: the first in Cambridge and the second one a few months later. Courtney Milan could have ended their story after Cambridge and given them their happily ever after then -- but, perhaps, it wasn't the right time for Oliver and Jane to have their happy ending: Oliver still had his career and Jane still had her sister to worry about.

Their journeys from "I" to "we" isn't complete yet and, while reading how their romance unfolded, I kept thinking about all the essays on the phenomenology of love that I read for Philosophy classes at university. I think Courtney Milan has found the missing link that makes this love story believable: from the first sight, to the first kiss, to the first "I love you" until the end. In many romance novels, the romance sometimes feels too sudden, too shallow --

In Jane and Oliver, we see the transformation, we see what precipitates the transformation, we see the time that it took for the transformation to occur -- and Courtney Milan makes every step excruciatingly painful but also exquisitely cathartic.

This is also a work that doesn't quite follow a typical dramatic structure: introduction, rising action, climax, resolution, etc -- the action rises several times and there are quite a number of climactic moments for each of the characters.

4. It's by Courtney Milan.
This is a story that will make your heart soar in a way that you won't quite understand -- but, just enjoy the process. ^_^

The Heiress Effect is the second book in Courtney Milan's The Brothers Sinister series. To find out more about Courtney Milan and her books, click below:
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Disclosure: I won a copy from The Season for Romance

To read my reviews of the rest of the series, click below:
Book 0.5: The Governess Affair (e-novella)
Book 1: The Duchess War
Book 1.5: A Kiss For Midwinter (e-novella)


3 comments:

  1. Oh yes! This is my kind of novel. The naive heiress against the tough ton! Bring it on. My bet’s on the heiress. Cannot wait to read this. Thanks for sharing, Tin. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi, Connie! She pretends to be ignorant but she understands the game and is playing it like a master. ^_^

    If you're new to the series, I would recommend starting with The Governess Affair, the e-novella that introduces the Brothers Sinister. ^_^

    Have a great day!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Very informative dissection!

    ReplyDelete

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