If you want to try a historical romance, I recommend Courtney Milan’s books the most highly, but not this particular one. Nobody’s perfect and it does open splendidly…
Miss Jane Fairfield has a number of problems, but they can be boiled down to the fact that she a. is very wealthy and therefore marriageable and b. has a younger sister she needs to protect from a rather dim and unscrupulous uncle. In order to avoid marriage and protect her sister, but still give the impression she is trying to find a husband, Jane takes it upon herself to be available but undesirable. It is quite a balancing act. She must repel suitors, but not openly reject them. To accomplish this, she is meticulously awful: loud, ill-mannered, horrifically but seemingly unintentionally impolite, and hideously upholstered in garish clothing.
The Heiress Effect novel begins strongly. It is fremdschämen in chapter form. Jane is doing her best to be inappropriate and seemingly oblivious to the mocking laughter behind her back. She attends a dinner party and meets Oliver Marshall, an ambitious young man of equally questionable background who simply refuses to participate in unkindness toward Jane, even when given the opportunity to gain his own political ends if he helps put the bright and brave upstart “in her place”.
My reaction to the novel is a disappointed, “Oh, dear”. Courtney Milan is the very best writer currently publishing in historical romance. The. Very. Best. But The Heiress Effect is a bit of a mess. A very well-written and compelling mess, but a mess with structural and character issues nonetheless. It feels like a fabulous novella that other story lines have been slotted into, or perhaps one that simply got away from the author. The extra plot lines were interesting, and the one for Jane’s sister could have been a lovely novella in and of itself, but they didn’t coalesce successfully. The lead characters were kept apart for too long and Jane behaved in a way that contradicted her earlier actions. I was actually gaping whathefu*kingly at my Kindle.
Such is my faith in Courtney Milan’s writing ability that I went back and re-read portions of The Heiress Effect, hoping the problem was how quickly I had read it. I came to the same conclusions, but assume Milan could have resolved the problems, if she had more time. I suspect that the publishing schedule that many romance authors keep to of one book every six to nine months and her promised publication date was the real issue here.
Courtney Milan is fascinated by medical history and it always makes for interesting and galling story developments, in this case with themes of women’s rights and personal empowerment. Also, she deserves some sort of award for writing stories that take place in neither London nor Bath, the two default locations for all nineteenth century historical romance.
A complete summary of Courtney Milan’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.