Book Review

This Wicked Gift by Courtney Milan


Title: This Wicked Gift
Author: Courtney Milan
Publication Info: Harlequin 2009
ISBN: 9780373774272
Genre: Historical: European

Book CoverThere’s a lot to love about this novella. It’s different in the setting, in the characters, in the meaning and the conflict, and the intelligence of the plot.

Lavinia Spencer, bookkeeper to her family’s lending library, does everything for everyone, is taken for granted, but at heart is warm and loved. William White does everything for a brutal boss, survives on a pittance, is taken for granted after being cheated out of his promised inheritance, and is cold and lonely. Except for how he feels about Lavinia.

He adores her. He’s admired her for over a year, and saved for months to afford the subscription fee to the lending library she runs, just for the chance to see her. When Lavinia’s brother is swindled by people who do nefarious swindly-type things, Lavinia must figure out a way to save him – until William White steps in and makes an outrageous, tempting, and dangerous offer.

What I love about the novella is the intricate parallels and mirrors within the plot. She teaches him about value of honor, and he teaches her the value of independence instead of dependence. But the way those themes of honor, worth, independence, and value are folded back onto one another, reappearing and connecting to each other in intricate moments is simply amazing. The book is like a sword that’s a thousand years old but shines like it was made yesterday, constructed of the thinnest sheets of metal folded back and forth onto itself a million times. It’s shiny and solid and powerful, but there’s even more to appreciate when you examine the intricacy of its construction.

This is a novella that grows in quality the more you ponder it, and in the time since I’ve finished it, I’ve grown to appreciate its demonstrated skill and intelligence. I wish there weren’t large jumps in time, and some of the explanations and inter monologues were roundabouts I had to re-read at times before I caught the full meaning, but I made myself do it despite a habit of scanning once my attention is lost, because I knew there was more to appreciate. Sometimes the dialogue or explanations were so complex as to be intimidating, but I was so invested in the characters and their happy endings, I backed up and read again.

It is a break from the nobility-filled historical as it is a romance between two working-class individuals. But it is as much about honor and the nobility of individuals as the best of the duke-ridden romances on the shelves now – more so because it reveals those themes in a little-seen setting. It is about where selflessness and selfishness end, and they can slide into one another. How much selflessness is really a selfish desire to be needed? How much can selfishness be alleviated by someone’s caring?

If this is what Milan can do in a short novella, I can’t wait to see what happens in a novel length work.

This book is available from Amazon, IndieBound, Book Depository, Powells and eHarlequin.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Sybylla says:

    I’ve been considering picking this up – I like getting these collections as a way to test out unfamiliar authors’ writing – and now I definitely think I’m going to.  Thanks for the review.

  2. 2
    KristenMary says:

    I just read this last week as well and I have to agree. This story, as well as the other two, were a delight. I enjoyed it so much I gave my book to my sister so I would have someone to share the joy with.

  3. 3
    SB Sarah says:

    Isn’t that the best? The, ‘Oh, read this so you can feel as warm and happy as I do!’ feeling?

  4. 4
    Beki says:

    Wow, what a review.  I’m going to pick this up.  Love to get the novellas to try out new authors.  As a writer, I find it much harder to pare down a story into a novella, relying instead of many pages to get information and story across.  Someone who can rock my world in short-form is a winner, for sure!

  5. 5
    Vuir says:

    Is the cover picture right?  It looks like an anthology, since Mary Balogh’s name is much bigger than Courtney Milan’s.

    Is the novella being reviewed one of three in the book?

  6. 6
    Sarah Frantz says:

    @Vuir: It is a novella in an anthology, but the other two stories are reprints of previous novellas. The Balogh is one of her best, if you like Balogh and I didn’t read the Cornick. But the book is totally worth it for Milan’s story alone.

  7. 7
    Cathy says:

    I am not usually a fan of the novella. There’s usually too much story and too little space for it, but with such an enthusiastic review, I will probably pick this one up.

    I see that Milan has a book coming out on 1/1/10 too, and I’ll definitely look for that one.

  8. 8
    Kris Kennedy says:

    I’m so glad you reviewed this novella, which I think is gorgeous.  It’s the word I keep coming back to.  I, too, was blown away by how much she packed into something so short, and the prose is just beautiful. I cannot wait for her Jan. single title book to come out.

  9. 9
    C.J. Redwine says:

    I loved this novella for all the reasons you mentioned. Courtney Milan writes with grit, power, and a true understanding of the intricacies within the human heart. I’m amazed by her talent and can’t wait to snatch her upcoming debut novel off the shelves!

  10. 10
    Mollyscribbles says:

    I’m wondering how the heck this only got a B+ when the review is pretty much just going “OMG this is awesome! Read it!”

  11. 11
    katiebabs says:

    Love among a room full of books gets my vote! Also Courtney’s story puts Balogh’s cliche one to shame.

  12. 12
    RebeccaA says:

    I loved this one, too.  The other novella were reprints, that I had read before and enjoyed.

  13. 13

    This novella was so wonderful that I can’t wait for her full length novel.  It’s exciting to see a new talent burst out this way!

  14. 14
    kinseyholley says:

    I keep trying to think of a way to describe how beautifully,and precisely, Courtney writes, and all I can come up with is: it’s like a woman whose hair is always perfectly coiffed, fingernail polish never chipped, just the right amount of accessories and jewelry and they coordinate perfectly with her outfit, and her lipstick doesn’t run and her eyeshadow doesn’t crease and whatever she’s wearing is always appropriate for the season and the occasion. And when you stand next to her you’re reminded that you spilled coffee on your skirt this morning, your shirt’s a little too tight and is doing that pucker thing at the button above your bra, and your manicure is a month old, don’t even think about your roots and oh yeah, you forgot to put on lipstick. She, however, probably doesn’t notice any of this because she’s too interested in what you have to say to pick apart your appearance.

    And all you can think is: bitch.

  15. 15
    JoAnn says:

    I like to look for anthologies that have at least one author I like (in this case Mary Balogh) and a newbie or to for me to discover. I enjoyed all three stories in this but the one by Courtney Milan was perfect in my mind. I would have given it an “A.” Just wonderful.

  16. 16
    trudy says:

    i just read Courtney Milan’s newest, “Proof by Seduction” and in my humble opinion, it would not rate a Bplus.  I swear it wasn’t edited. Repetitive phrases, illogical behavior…just goofy. But, oh, it had a good hero and heroine and a great premise. So much potential. But it went south in execution.  Maybe I just missed something here.  I will read her novella. Because I want to be wrong.

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