Book Review

The Heiress Effect By Courtney Milan

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Title: The Heiress Effect
Author: Courtney Milan
Publication Info: Courtney Milan July 15th, 2013
ISBN: 9781937248154
Genre: Historical: European

Book The Heiress Effect COURTNEY MILAN HOW DO YOU BRAIN.

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.


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Niki says:

    Great review!  I inhaled this on the day it was released, and loved it.  My only sadness was that I wanted to see more of Jane’s hilarious “innocent” antisocial behavior.  That’s just me being greedy for more of what I loved about this book, not a complaint about its quality.

    I absolutely love seeing this era through Courtney’s writings, and like you I was stoked to see a solid secondary character from India.  I loved his discussions with Emily, and her meeting with his mother.

    Courtney Milan has become one of my auto-buy authors, and this book is a great example of why she’s one of my favorite writers right now.

  2. 2

    Yay! I was looking forward to this review.  I also devoured the book the evening it was released (eh, sleep is for wimps ;)) and loved it, as always with C.M.

    I totally agreed about Mr. Bhattacharya.  The moment where Emily is complaining about a certain imperialistic French tyrant and then, seeing the look on his face, suddenly goes “D’oh!” was BRILLIANT.

    Uncle Tennis Elbow was a little bit similar to the domineering husband in “What Happened At Midnight”, but not unduly—his motivations came from a totally different place, foolish rather than consciously tyrannical. And the denouement really was very satisfying.

    Go Courtney! She never disappoints. :)

  3. 3
    JenniferH says:

    This is in my TBR folder but having read your review, in particular the bit about the rule against perpetuities, it has moved up the list. I am a property lawyer and was discussing the RAP at work today!

  4. 4

    Staring at the internet waiting for the next Courtney Milan book is at least 50% of my life. :)

    I loved this book so much. I think Jane actually usurped Smite and became my favorite Courtney Milan character. Is it bad that I really want Jane’s awesome clothes?

  5. 5
    Cat C says:

    YES YES YES YES YES to everything about this review.  Courtney Milan rocks my world.

    Agree with Niki re: more of Jane being “oblivious,” Molly re: similarity to “What Happened at Midnight,” and Jennifer R re: amount of time spent and on what.

    C.M. just makes me so happy. Even when I’m just staring at her website and wishing it was December already.

  6. 6
    Meri says:

    I really like Courtney Milan’s writing and her dialogue, but I don’t always like the characters and their stories quite as much; I find myself admiring her for taking risks and including some pretty atypical romance characters in her books, but sometimes the results leave me unmoved, as though I’m looking at a work of art that doesn’t speak to me at all. I liked The Heiress Effect in parts, especially Jane, thought Freddy’s secret was great (and in character) and would have liked to see more of Emily and Anjan as well – especially Anjan. But I didn’t love it, even though I really wanted to.

    Re characters from India in historical romance, I think Mary Jo Putney had a secondary romance with an Indian hero in one of her books, possibly The Wild Child.

  7. 7
    Nuha says:

    I didn’t like this book as much as I did The Duchess War, which was weird because I so, so ready to love the shit out of it because a. Courtney Milan (how, indeed, do you brain???) and b. bastardy and all the emotional pain that entails = amazing potential for characters who rip your heart out and c. a heroine who might look like me! (Trust me, this is important. I, too, have an unfashionable thirty-seven inch waist.)

    I really enjoyed that the narrative was very concerned with giving women agency—with proving that, really, women are all Rational Beings. We can Go Outside Unsupervised. We can Ensure Our Own Safety. Free didn’t need Oliver to come charging to her rescue. Emily didn’t need anyone to come break her out. And Jane—Jane’s got so much money she pretty much gets to do whatever the fuck she wants. This is delicious, delicious stuff.

    And Anjan just thrilled my pants off, because I was so, so scared when he was introduced because I generally don’t like white ladies messing around with brown characters—especially brown characters puttering around in historical romance novel settings because there’s so much potential for nastiness—but Ms. Milan blew me out of the water. Anjan struck me as a more tragic figure than Oliver—because both of them spent a lot of time seething and plotting to rise in the ranks of society—but, unlike Oliver who does not have to participate in the corrupt societal power structure to live comfortably, Anjan does: he must imitate the English, learn their laws, put up with a shit-ton of racist shit with good grace, and maybe he’ll get somewhere. Sorry, Anjan. I feel you man—it sucks to be a model minority.

    But I still didn’t emotionally engage with the text the way I did with The Duchess War. I definitely felt intellectually engaged and challenged, but I could spot all the cliches being sidestepped, and some of the symbolism/thematic resonance felt a little bit on the nose. (Don’t get me wrong. I liked that Jane’s outrageous wardrobe (which sounds fabulous, by the way) went from being armor to a true expression of herself. I just didn’t need to be told. I liked the interplay between what an arranged marriage means—how it’s really a negotiation between parent and child, between socially mandated action and the yearnings of the heart—and how Emily learned to hold herself precious because Titus wouldn’t. I didn’t need to be told that, either.)

  8. 8
    AngstriddenGoddess says:

    I’m having trouble with the cover. Nobody could twist their neck that far around without a single wrinkle appearing. Then I thought maybe I was looking at her from the front. I mean those are a very firm pair of shoulder blades there. But if so, her arms are on backwards.

    Position23: clearly, I need to do more yoga.

  9. 9
    Karin says:

    I already said how much I’m loving this book on the other thread, but since Meri mentioned the MJ Putney book I now have a HABO question that’s driving me crazy. Putney has a book where the hero is British but was born while his parents were traveling somewhere in the wilds of Asia, Afghanistan or Kashmir, maybe?  So they die in some kind of epidemic, and he ends up being raised by his Indian amah(nanny). He grows up to think of her as his real mother, since he was too young to remember his parents and he believes he is Indian. She keeps it a secret to keep him safe, I think because there were riots and killing of Westerners going on at the time. He doesn’t find out he is actually British until he is an adult. Can anybody remember which book this is? It’s not The Wild Child.

  10. 10
    Sarah says:

    @ Meri, the Indian-character-secondary-romance is definitely in MJ Putney’s The Wild Child.  Also, there’s an Indian character in Loretta Chase’s The Sandalwood Princess, but he’s pretty flat – he’s The Wise Indian Servant with Mysterious Talents.  The Indian man in The Wild Child is not quite so flat, but not quite three-dimensional, either – two-dimensional, I guess.

    @ Karin, are you positive that your HaBO was written by MJ Putney?  It doesn’t sound familiar at all to me, but I haven’t read any of her “Silk” books and I wonder if it might be one of those.

    I too have had really strong emotional reactions to a Courtney Milan book, but the one that I loved most and yet almost never re-read because it’s so intense for me is the novella ‘A Kiss for Midwinter’.  I really, really relate to Lydia’s situation.  A favorite passage:

    “It was the kind of kiss that never happened in fairytales.  This wasn’t the meeting of lips that woke princesses from a sleep of a hundred years.  It wouldn’t break enchantments or seduce dark knights from their unholy destinies.  It was the kind of kiss a man might give a princess whose enchantment had been shattered years in the past, a woman who was struggling to understand a world without ensorcellment.  His fingers against her cheek acknowledged her deepest hurts, and that made his kiss the subtlest kind of magic.”

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