As The Governess Affair and The Duchess War are Victorian romances by Courtney Milan, you can simply assume that, after providing the standard review content, I am going to encourage you to read them and virtually everything else she has published. Thematically, her stories focus on the questions of identity: Who are you? Who does society say you are? Who do you want to be? Romance tropes are flipped or shaken and Milan crafts lovely and heartfelt stories. Moreover, they contain social commentary and an unusually honest view of the era they depict, as well as of modern mores. Courtney Milan is amazing like that. She is the best romance writer currently publishing and quickly becoming one of the all-time greats in the genre.
The Governess Affair
Setting up the Brothers Sinister series, The Governess Affair is about the coming together of Serena Barton and Hugo Marshall. She was assaulted by her former, and his current, employer, the Duke of Clermont. Serena is staging a sit in on a bench outside of the Duke’s London residence insisting on reparations in the form of financial support for herself and the Duke’s unborn child. Tasked with removing this inconvenience is the Duke’s man of business, Hugo Marshall. They quickly discover that in any other circumstance, they would be rushing to a vicar. Because of the complications of Hugo’s employment and Serena’s pregnancy, their union faces stumbling blocks before it can begin. Serena has already decided who she wants to be and what she is willing to do to become that person. Hugo takes a little longer, but gets to where he needs to be as well.
Story threads beyond Serena and Hugh’s sweet relationship are created in The Governess Affair. What is a triumph for the protagonists has repercussions for both Oliver, their son, and his brother, Robert, the next Duke of Clermont. He just happens to be the hero of the next book in the series.
The Duchess War
Not only has Minerva Lane been told who she is, she has participated in her own belittlement. A lioness terrified of her yearning to roar, her tightly laced corset is the perfect metaphor for the compression of her spirit. When she encounters Robert Blaisdale, Duke of Clermont, at a social event, he witnesses her frustration and gets a glimpse of the formidable woman she hides. Thrown together repeatedly by their political interests and Robert’s fascination, he and Minnie find their way towards each other as much as they do into themselves. He is a Duke with no use for the peerage, she is a woman fighting for security on her own terms, and neither can resist the challenge the other one represents. The limitations imposed on and accepted by Milan’s characters are front and center for Robert and Minnie. They both want so much and are so afraid, often very reasonably, to reach and fail that they both have to find ways to stand up and together.
Both of The Governess Affair and The Duchess War are fantastic and I encourage you to read them and virtually everything else Courtney Milan has published. Minnie’s best friend, Lydia, is featured in the wonderful novella, A Kiss for Midwinter, that follows immediately on the heels of the latter novel. The Duchess War is a great romance, A Kiss for Midwinter is a classic of the genre and one of my top five romances of all time.
A complete summary of Courtney Milan’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.