We LOVED this book.
If we could get away with it, we would submit this entire review in CAPSLOCK because the book was MADE OF WIN.
The Suffragette Scandal is about Free, a suffragette, and Edward, a scoundrel. Edward’s brother is trying to destroy Free. Edward wants to destroy his brother. Hence – unlikely allies who engage in a sexy romance, tons of witty banter, and an empowering story of feminism that is both historically important and currently relevant.
Our first several emails to each other consisted entirely of drool but we did finally manage to put together some complete sentences. I got the ball rolling by talking about how much I loved the dialogue:
It took me a while to finish the book because I would read two lines and then jump round the room, squeeing. The dialogue was a little bit Terry Pratchett, a little bit Jennifer Crusie at the top of her game, and all Courtney Milan – she's always written brilliant dialogue but this was absolutely top-notch. I adore “Battle of Wits” stories especially when the two people respect each other and are having a great time.
Seriously, I could not get through an entire paragraph without having to take a squeeing break.
“Are you blackmailing me with my attempt to blackmail you? Can I now threaten to go to the authorities and turn this convoluted double blackmail attempt into triple blackmail?”
Oh. My. God. I was LITERALLY hopping up and down with glee.
We both loved the characters. Here’s Redheadedgirl:
I love Free. She'd aggravate the fuck out of me if she was my friend (but I’d still love her), and I love her as a character.
Edward though? Edward. Dude.
He's like, a legit rogue with criminal leanings and that half-amused thing while he's getting other people to do his bidding that I love. He knows he's got people off-balance. He knows how to use his unique set of skills for the (very small set of) people he loves. He is, like all of Milan's heroes, broken, but not irredeemably so, and he's also not fixed by the love and lovin' (If You Know What I Mean) of the right woman.
And the proposal?
“I have no moral sense to speak of, I lie, I cheat, I steal, and I'll probably drive you away screaming within the week. But if you marry me, I'll only do those things on your behalf.”
That's romance, right there. That's the proposal I want.
And we loved Free, the heroine. I said this:
I loved Edward but I REALLY adored Free. I mean, I completely adored her. I loved the relationships she had with other people. I loved her attitude towards fear. I loved her ability to duck potential drama and to remain always unflappable. I am mad with envy at her skill with a quick, clever comeback. I thought her biggest flaw was perfect for her character, because it showed how her greatest asset could also work against her:
Free knew that she was the sort to push others. She knew because she’d been told it, time and time again, and because…well, frankly, it was true. Other people were often wrong, and she had no qualms about letting them know.
But if she had one regret in her life, it was pushing too hard at the wrong time…. Sometimes, she’d learned, the only way to move forward was to stop pushing.
I really like that Free as a character was inspired by Nellie Bly.
And I also like that while she has her eye on the big picture (votes for women) she also focuses on the smaller, more personal victories- that's the only way to do activism and remain sane. And she focuses on the women, rather than just trying to change the minds of men. This is how cultural shift happens.
ALSO A PUPPY CANNON. Those letters, Carrie. I can't get over them.
At this point Redheadedgirl and I had to pause for a minute to yell, “PUPPY CANNON” and roll around on the floor.
We both noticed that the book is incredibly timely. Redheadedgirl said:
I want to talk about the villain a bit. And how timely this book is. The motivation behind the villain is that he asked (“asked”- I don't think there were many question marks involved) Free to be his mistress, and she refused. So he sets himself against her in terms of slander, libel, arson, and sexual assault. And given that the conversation of what can happen to women when they refuse men is a conversation we are STILL having in 2014 is frustrating beyond words.
I kept having to remind myself that this book was in the works for a long time. I felt like Milan sat down and wrote the most blistering, uplifting, inspiring #yesallwomen tweet EVER.
One moment that felt weirdly prescient (but not anachronistic) was early on, when Edward presents himself as someone who isn't sexist – and then very quickly calls himself out on his own sexism:
He'd huffed internally when she'd called him a womanthrope – but he'd underestimated her so badly that he had to wonder if he was the kind of person who couldn't give a woman her due simply because of her sex.
A mistake he needed to correct instantly, if he were to deal with her at all.
Hell, he'd threatened to ruin her reputation as if she were a fussy, prim little debutante. No wonder she hadn't blinked. It had been rather like waving a butter knife in front of an accomplished swordsman.
We all have prejudices and we all make assumptions. A person who recognizes that and makes adjustments accordingly to be better is much more realistic and interesting than someone with no prejudices at all. I admired Edward for catching that so quickly, and for adjusting his way of thinking about Free promptly.
Free’s thimble speech made me cry. I had to put the book down for a while and have a moment. I don’t want to quote it here because I want people to encounter it like I did – floating out of the text. Gorgeous. And Edward and his thimble thing…I just…it made me feel so empowered and moved and motivated. So angry that her struggles are still so relevant and so hopeful that we can keep inching forward.
There’s a secondary romance that we both thought was fantastic but we don’t want to spoil it. So we won’t.
I (CarrieS) had a couple nitpicks. There were aspects of the happy ending that I didn’t quite buy. The resolution was in character for Free and Edward and I liked how it worked for the story – I’m just not sure I believe it would work. Also, Free is charmed by how casually Robert behaves in his estate. Robert has her walk on the carpet in her muddy shoes, and he eats toast without worrying about crumbs on the carpet, and he makes sure a soggy, exhausted Free gets a nice hot bath. This is one of those times when knowledge is dangerous, because my reaction was, “Of course he’s not worried about causing messes – he doesn’t have to clean it up! But some maid will be scrubbing mud out of the carpet until 2AM!”
But even with my attack of practicality, both Redheadedgirl and I give this book ALL THE A’s. We laughed, we cried, we were inspired and frustrated and we will henceforth be seen yelling “PUPPY CANNON” at random.
I may have swooned a little.
Redheadedgirl spent her Friday emailing the other Smart Bitches reviewers and telling us “HURRY UP AND READ THE BOOK I NEED TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT IT”.
The best summary of all comes from a friend of Redheadedgirl’s who said, simply, “This one is special”. And then she squeed about the puppy cannon for, according to Redheadedgirl, approximately ten minutes. So go read this! Call in sick, cancel your meetings, do what it takes to read it – you won’t be sorry!