Book Review

The Duchess War by Courtney Milan:  A Guest Review By CarrieS


Title: The Duchess War
Author: Courtney Milan
Publication Info: Courtney Milan 2012
ISBN: 9781937248093
Genre: Historical: European

The Duchess War by Courtney Milan The Duchess War is lovely – smart, touching, funny, sexy, and dizzyingly romantic.  Read it right away – yes, now.  Everything on your to-do list can wait, believe me.

The Duchess War is the first book in Milan's new Victorian Era romance trilogy, The Brothers Sinister.  There's a prequel, The Governess Affair, (A | BN | K | S | ARe | iB) (SB grade: B+) which is delightful reading but not at all necessary in terms of understanding The Duchess War

Anyway, in Duchess War, we have Robert Blaisdell, the Ninth Duke of Claremont, a man who is desperate to repair the wrongs committed by his father.  He meets the dauntingly named Wilhelmina (Minnie) Pursling, who has dark secrets.  Robert and Minnie are both involved in promoting the rights of workers, and they form what is simultaneously an enmity and an alliance.

This book is all about recognition.  Robert is plagued by the fact that not only does he bear his abusive father's name and title, but he looks very much like his father.  The resemblance is so strong that people often comment on his being “just like his father”, when in fact he has spent his entire life trying to be as different from his father as possible.  Meanwhile Minnie is so desperate to conceal her past that she has almost erased herself from existence, hoping no one will notice her.  The theme of recognition and acceptance is laid out again and again throughout the book.  It's not subtle, but it is beautiful.

The book is quiet and thoughtful and yet packed with twists and turns and reveals that are both surprising and poignant.  There is ample room for character development, and such lovely, lovely prose:

It wasn't that he didn't believe in love.  The thought of love was like water in the desert.  Now there was a stupid cliché, one that made him think of a man in ragged clothing staggering through the Sahara, searching for an oasis among the sand dunes.

But the Antarctic was a desert too, a cold desert, one made dry because water there turned to ice the instant it hit the air.

So he believed in love.  He'd always believed in love.  He'd been surrounded by water all his life; it had simply been frozen solid.  He'd loved as hard as he dared and watched it freeze before his face.  It was no surprise now when he checked his feelings and discovered that he loved her.  The surprise was that this time, when he dared to take a sip, he found water instead of ice.

Why yes, since you ask, there is a lot of angst.  Really, I'm unclear on how either protagonist is able to summon the mental health to get out of bed in the morning given their childhood traumas and current dilemmas.  But there's humor too – and when the book goes for the funny, it's hilarious.  The scene on the train where Robert begs friends not to embarrass him, which leads directly to a conversation about why, exactly, dragons prefer to eat maidens (key line, “But dragons cannot milk princesses.  They do not have opposable thumbs”)!  The bachelor party!  The Duchess, despite being the source of much angst, is nevertheless gifted with lines such as “Do not pollute my perfectly acceptable figurative speech with irrelevant facts!”  

There's also fantastically bad sex between two virgins – followed by great sex as one of them manages to turn the whole thing around.  For a special bonus, there are really great outfits.  I'm serious; the description of clothing alone is worth the price of the book.  Plus, I must honor my geeky side by pointing out the motifs of chess and of science that are prominent throughout the story.

The closest thing I have to a criticism is that the book reaches a climax (in many senses of the word) and then keeps going.  I'm not sorry it kept going, because it actually took the time and trouble to resolve all the conflicts and threads instead of resorting to the “true love solves all” fallback.  But at the same time I felt like the story had already reached its natural conclusion despite having many chapters left before the ending.  I'm not sure how the author could have resolved this – the pacing felt truly off, as though the book had gotten away from the author a bit.  At the same time, all that resolution was pretty necessary if the book was to stick to its own messages of honesty and responsibility.  I'll be curious to hear thoughts from others on this.

And then there's the epilogue, when to my utter amazement I actually burst into tears.  They were brief, muted tears, because I was supposed to be helping my daughter with her math instead of weeping into my eReader, but I feel I can use the phrase “burst into tears” honestly.  Truly, you guys, this is just a lovely, lovely book.  Why are you still here?  Go read it right away!

This book is available at Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance eBooks.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    CostumeChic says:

    Did you see the cover art for The Governess Affair? The worst photoshop. Which is such a shame, as I love Milan’s novels.

  2. 2
    C? says:

    This book sounds intriguing. And I’m totally sold on – There’s also fantastically bad sex between two virgins  I hate it when virgins are made into sex gods just cos they are doing it with the one, to put it crudely. I love awkward and cute sex scenes that acknowledges that not everyone knows exactly what to do, especially the first time!

  3. 3
    Elizabeth Houston says:

    @CostumeChic- After seeing the new covers for Laura Kinsale’s books, I don’t think anything else can come close to being the ‘worst photoshop’, lol.

    Although not beautiful, these covers are simple and clean, which makes them stand out a bit compared to other historicals. If you look at them in a grid with other covers (even in black and white on my Nook), they pop out, and that’s probably the most imortant qualification a book cover can have now.

    I read and enjoyed The Governess Affair, so I will definitely be looking this one up. Thanks Carrie!

  4. 4

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen you ladies so effusive about ANY book. I’m on my way to Amazon now to get it! :)

  5. 5
    rameau says:

    I forgot to mention the bad sex in my review. I loved it but at the same time it’s the kind of realism I’ve come to expect from Milan that it doesn’t move me into song like it would had another author written it.

  6. 6
    Beccah W. says:

    Love me some angst! Can’t wait to read this one.

  7. 7
    Beccah W. says:

    Just checked Amazon…and apparently the heroine’s name is “Miss Minerva Lane”?

  8. 8
    KarenF says:

    Ooh!  Is that out now?  I missed the release date by a week.  … off to download!

  9. 9
    Amymarie325 says:

    I also “burst into tears” at the epilogue!

  10. 10
    Malin says:

    I didn’t love the book as much as I absolutely adore Unraveled, partially because I had to spend a lot of time in the latter half of the book shouting loudly at Robert (yes, I shout at characters in books, my husband suffers silently and gives me pointed looks), who was well on his way getting himself into one of the big misunderstandings that Milan is usually so good at avoiding in her books. One of the reasons I so love Milan’s earlier works is that her characters are so good at talking things through, and it frustrated me no end that Robert, who was one of the only people around who saw how brilliant Minnie really was, suddenly forgot all about it, and decided not to talk to her about things. That niggle makes the book an A- for me.

    The super awkward sex scene and the aftermath nearly had me applauding loudly, though. So very well done, and so encouraging. Very refreshing to have a hero who is not only a virgin (not a first for Milan), but a Duke.

  11. 11
    Lil says:

    Sigh. I do hate it when books are only available as ebooks. Unfortunately for me, I infinitely prefer to read a paper book, especially when it is by an author I admire like Courtney Milan and is likely to be something I will want to reread.

    I imagine that those of you who love your ereaders feel the same way about books that are only available on paper.

    One of these days, someone is going to figure out a way to make us all happy.

  12. 12
    CarrieS says:

    The character is introduced as Wilhelmina but her real name is Minerva Lane.

  13. 13
    Kathryn Albert says:

    Wow. I agree completely, exactly with this review. I devoured the book the day it came out. It was touching and hilarious and the virgin sex was awful and awkward and realistically resolved. The pacing was off, but the book so great you don’t care much. The characterization is fantastic and the dialogue impeccable. I love Courtney Milan and she just keeps getting better at her craft.

  14. 14
    Terrie says:

    I agree that it’s going to be hard for any Milan to top Unraveled in my affections because, jeez, I love that book.  Still, this latest novel is a delight.  The background angst, as I expect from Milan, is original.  Particularly with Minnie—I sat back and thought, “wow, I didn’t see that coming” and “I’ve not seen that before.”  I’ll agree, Robert gets a bit stupid in the last part but not so much that I lost touch with him.  And the resolution to it is beautifully done.  And, yeah, I cried at the last lines of the book.

    There are some pretty teary scenes getting there, too.  When Robert talked to his half-brother’s mother . . .  after the setup from earlier in the book?  I loved it—though I do think it’s all deeper if you read the Governess Affair first.

    One of the things I love about Milan is how she pulls off personal redemption without having lifetime issues magically go poof. 

    And it’s funny, too.  The scene on the train is hilarious.

    The only complaint I have with Milan is that she doesn’t have a bookshelf’s worth of back novels I haven’t read yet.  But, hey, there’s another story/novella coming up in a couple weeks for one of the side characters in the Duchess War.  It’s like early Christmas!

  15. 15
    Karenmc says:

    My (first world) problem is that this is the busiest time of year for me at work, and that doesn’t leave me the reading time I need. I bought this as soon as Milan announced its availability on Twitter, but am in the middle of another book. And now the new Meredith Duran novella has arrived early on my Kindle. It’s a Festivus conundrum!

  16. 16
    carey baldwin says:

    The good news is that Courtney is working on a print version that should be available in a few days. She is an amazing talent, and not only does she write wonderful stories, but she designs the books as well. Hopefully, you won’t have a long wait!

  17. 17
    KatieF says:

    Devoured this on Saturday as soon as I saw it was out and agree completely with the review. It’s an exceptionally well-written book, with an interesting story and great characters. And, it was only $3.99. What a deal!!

    Thanks for writing the review, Carrie!  I was desperately searching on Twitter and GoodReads this weekend to find someone who had read it so I could talk about how much I loved it.

  18. 18
    Cate Hulk says:

    Been waiting for this book for AGES, and now it is here, and only 4 bucks on Kindle!  I read the Turner brother’s books in the last year, and now Milan is an auto-buy for me.  She seriously writes the sexiest heroes ever and this sounds like no exception.  (Virgins! So cute!)

  19. 19
    Rose says:

    I’m about halfway through and at this point I’m trying really hard to love it but it’s more of a conditional like. I think the problem for me is that if after reading The Governess Affair, much of Robert’s back story is already known, while Minnie’s past is mainly hinted in the first half or so. It’s obvious that she’s had some difficult experiences, without knowing more about her, some of her feelings and thoughts are difficult for me to empathize with. Also, “look up” doesn’t have quite the same ring as “paint your own canvas” :)

    That said, it is beautifully written – as you’d expect from Courtney Milan – and I’m really enjoying Robert and his friends. I’m still hopeful that I’ll warm up to Minnie.

  20. 20
    JCM says:…

    Please check out this post by Sherry Thomas describing the process of designing and selcting a book cover for a self pub novel. I think you may want to consider the effort before throwing stones.

  21. 21
    Karin says:

    I’m so happy to hear this!

  22. 22
    Karin says:

    Milan’s covers are not as fancy as some others, but I do love the dresses and the fact that she self publishes. That’s why I bought the paper version of Unraveled even though it had a trade paperback price.

  23. 23

    Courtney Milan is one of my favorite discoveries this year. I love it when I find an author with a nice comfy backlist to get me through the months between new releases! This is on my TBR for the weekend!

  24. 24
    Polished Bookworm says:

    I downloaded this as soon as it was available—and proceeded to hide the rest of the day so I could devour it.  LOVED THIS BOOK SO HARD!

  25. 25
    Damon says:

    Many many thanks for posting this mindful review!

    I have been in a bit of a funk with regards to new romance titles and I didn’t realize this was out. D’oh! I LOVE Courtney Milan and am psyched to hear the latest is as good as her best… High praise indeed. Very psyched to dig into this one.

  26. 26
    Krista says:

    Ugh, you are making me want books that I don’t have room for :(

  27. 27
    K Angel2 says:

    I just started this book.  Funny and clever, and hopefully gets sexy later.  My three faves in a book.  And a good price!  I love Courtney Milan.

  28. 28
    laj says:

    That post was amazing. You’re a star for giving the link.

  29. 29
    sweetsiouxsie says:

    I am giving my self a kindle fire for Christmas (thanks to SB Sarah’s news of deals available on cyber Monday). I guess this will be the first book I download on it.

  30. 30
    Jordan Rowe says:

    I LOVED this one!  I’m so glad you loved it too and pimped here where so many people will see!

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