There was NOT A GOOD GODDAMN THING I DID NOT LIKE ABOUT THIS BOOK. Nothing.
Jane Fairfield has two problems.
One: she has an uncle, who is the guardian of her younger sister, and he is, basically, The Worst. You hear about people being Human Tennis Elbow, and Uncle Titus is basically it.
Two: She has a shitton of money and her uncle wants her to marry. Now. Anyone. Get the fuck out of the house, Jane. But Jane won’t abandon her sister to Uncle Tennis Elbow, and Uncle Tennis Elbow won’t surrender his guardianship of Emily.
Emily has a form of epilepsy, and Uncle Tennis Elbow keeps bringing in “doctors” and “specialists” and “fucking charlatans who shouldn’t be responsible for a geranium much less treating anyone with a pulse.” She is not allowed outside. She is not allowed to see anyone, or do anything, or read anything that might be the least bit stimulating (Uncle Tennis Elbow lets her read his law books, as long as she promises to not exert herself trying to understand the conclusions of law).
Jane is determined to make sure no one will ask by way of being the most flamboyant, ill-mannered, ridiculous person she can be. She’s obnoxious, she speaks her mind, and delivers insults not with the sweet smile of someone who knows what she’s doing, but with the bland facade of someone who doesn’t. It’s AMAZING.
Enter Oliver, the bastard son of a Duke, but raised by Hugo and Serena (Of The Governess Affair) and educated at Eton and Cambridge. He wants to be Prime Minster, and has been walking in the world of the political movers and shakers, while still being (legally) the son of a commoner. No one will let him forget it, and he keeps trying to be as inoffensive as possible while trying to get a Reform Bill passed through Parliament that would expand who gets to vote. He has some issues.
They meet in Cambridge, where he is courting votes and she’s avoiding marriage and pissing everyone off as she goes. She has no one she can confide in, she’s in this fight alone. Until Oliver, and then, because Courtney is Courtney and Courtney doesn’t adhere to the tropes of least resistance. No, no, she takes the story in ways you don’t expect.
Courtney has a habit of putting fully-formed, well-rounded characters with disabilities in her books- Ash and his dyslexia, Smite and his PTSD, Minnie and her agoraphobia… Emily is a fine addition. She’s a real person with real desires and motivations, and she refuses, both in story and out of it, to be defined by her epilepsy. It’s a part of her, but it’s not all of her.
The other thing that Courtney does is that she has a character I haven’t seen in a historical romance before- a man from the Indian subcontinent. He’s in Cambridge studying law, and he and Emily met by happenstance. His name is Anjan Bhattacharya, and he and Emily discuss the occupation of India by the British, what it’s been like for him as an Indian man in Cambridge, and the casual racism of his fellow students and co-workers. We meet his mother. This is a full person and I love that he is in this book.
(And then they get into a discussion where he doesn’t understand the Rule Against Perpetuities and quite right, too, because it’s one of the most incomprehensible rules of law and if you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me explode into a apoplexy of something as I
1) flashbacked to first year of law school and trying to wrap my head around this goddamn rule
2) laughed my seal-bark laugh as I realized that no, THAT IS A THING COURTNEY ACTUALLY PUT IN HER BOOK and
3) pondered the implication of trying to use Jesus as a measuring life for the Rule Against Perpetuities.)
(If you are a legal type person, and you know anything about RAP, this is funny as shit. If you are not, please consider yourself lucky, because I will never get that time back. Ever.)
Emily and Jane’s stories all resolve in ways that give them full agency- their men support them, and help them find their way, but the key is that Jane and Emily find their way, it is not found for them. There’s often a point in Courtney’s books where I wonder how things are going to be resolved, because the two most obvious ways are emotionally unsatisfying, and I trust her not to sacrifice her characters’ awesome for an easy resolution.
Finally, Courtney invokes emotional reactions in me that few other authors can. I love Unlocked, but I can’t reread it because it makes me SO UPSET. Uncle Tennis Elbow in The Heiress Effect is so awful to Jane and Emily that I want to get into the story and punch him in the throat and then cut off his balls. I want him dead because he so embodies the banality of ignorance and racism and passive evil. I liked Jane so much and felt her desperation so hard. That’s a rare gift.
In short: of course this book is brilliant. I don’t expect anything else from Courtney Milan. I try to be a polite reader and not publically hope that my favorite authors write faster (because that is both rude and not helpful), but I'm just going to sit here and stare longingly at the internet. I really want to know what happens next with these families.