Book Review

Unraveled by Courtney Milan, a Guest Review by RedHeadedGirl


Title: Unraveled
Author: Courtney Milan
Publication Info: Courtney Milan 2011
ISBN: 9781937248024
Genre: Historical: European

Book Cover

You guys know that I’m in my last year of law school (ABOUT FUCKING TIME) and it’s finals coming up and I SHOULD be writing a paper, but Sarah knows very well that I usually do reviews when I’m avoiding writing.  Or studying.  Or doing anything I really should be doing.  SO HERE I AM and I’m also a little (a lot) unhinged (which totally should be the title of Courtney’s next book).

      Anyway, so I got an advance copy of Unraveled in a giveaway during the Sizzling Not Summer Book Club chat and there was pressure for a review and here we are because Smite is AWESOME and I LOVE HIM and Miranda is FANTASTIC and also I really don’t want to write this stupid paper.  SO HERE WE GO.

      (Told you.  Unhinged.)

This is the third book in the Turner brothers trilogy- the three boys had a mother who was not the most stable of people, and the all reacted to her abuse in different ways.  Smite was nearly killed by her, and has a distinct lack of trust for people.  He’s a magistrate in Bristol, and even though his older brother is a Duke (long story, you can find it in Unveiled), he lives a simple, rather austere life and is known as Lord Justice.

Our heroine is Miranda, who was, as she says a lot, “raised by actors”  and does favors in exchange for protection and whatnot for the local mob boss, known as The Patron.  She meets Smite (officially) when she goes to the petty sessions to be an alibi witness for a kid- the Patron asked her to.  Having been raised by actors, she has a facility with disguises, wigs, costuming and accents.  Smite, however, has an eidetic memory and recognized her from previous stints as a witness.

So she gets under his skin, as the heroine is wont to do, and he manages to find out where she lives on the Wrong Side of Town, and shows up on her doorstep, and her ward (Robbie) clonks him over the head with a poker.  As you do.  Smite decides that nothing else will do but to set her up as his mistress and give Robbie an apprenticeship as a shipwright.

      “I’m not proposing a one-time liaison.  You’ll have a house.  Servants.  New clothing.”

      She rolled her eyes.  “Oh, Lord Justice, you do know how to woo a woman.  Tell me more.”

Seriously, I don’t want to spoil things, and that’s hard.   Also I’m in the middle of finals.  So my brain is mushy.

So what I loved about this book, as the brain-dead law student I am, is all the legal shit which made laugh and laugh and giggle.  In the initial petty session where we see Smite doing his Lord Justice act, a man has been summoned on a charge of public drunkenness, but also set his daughter’s woodshed on fire.  The man tries to put forth the defense of “I was drunk, I didn’t know what I was doing!”  and Smite replies,

    ”Under the rule of Lord Hale, a man who becomes voluntarily drunk is responsible for his actions, the same as if he were sober.”


Or, when Miranda explains her role in The Patron’s empire:

“Oh no, I never stole anything.  Or hurt anyone.  There may have been a time or two while someone else did something, but I personally never did anything wrong.”  Her tone seemed easy, but she watched him carefully.

He winced.  “I don’t think I wanted to know that.  I suppose now is not the time to acquaint you with the complicated doctrine of vicarious criminal liability?”

It’s usually never the time to bring that up, Smite.  But god, did I laugh.

(Was I not supposed to find that funny?  I can’t even tell any more.)

Both characters had traits that I really admired, and avoided tropes that get tiresome.  I fully expected that the patron was going to ask Miranda to do stuff to get information about Lord Justice or something and angst would ensue. Instead Miranda tells him about the Patron straight off.  There’s no build up of unnecessary drama because she won’t tell him things.  Which leaves plenty of room for all the necessary drama.

      ”I assumed I would be better off telling you about this, rather than waiting for the entire thing to blow up in my face.  You did ask for honesty, after all.  It seemed to be a matter of basic common sense.  When one is threatened by a shadowy criminal figure, one goes to the magistrate that shares one’s bed rather than the shadowy criminal figure.


But, and here’s where Unraveled works for me, it’s a really fascinating study of the differences between judicial discretion and mandatory minimums.  Smite believes very firmly that the law should apply as written- but first he must get ALL the relevant facts.  The other magistrates will more or less do as the constables ask, and not bother with questioning people too much.  It’s fascinating to me because it’s SUCH a relevant issue- mandatory minimums make for great sound bites and look simple on paper, but once applied to people, I very firmly believe they cause much more harm than good.

Judicial discretion in sentencing puts a lot of power in the hands of judges, it’s true.  You do get disparities in sentencing that are, at time, pretty egregious.  And there are some judges I’ve been in front of this semester doing bail arguments that I don’t like what they do with the power they have.  But that’s what advocacy by lawyers is FOR- to put the human being in front of the judge, and not a column of numbers.

(I seriously loved the work I had in my internship with the public defender’s office in Boston, and I am currently waiting to see if I’ll get an interview.  ~shameless plug~ Please cross your fingers for me.)

(I could go on a diatribe about the inequality of sentencing for non-violent drug offense, and how the prison industrial complex has basically created a new form of slavery, and the moniker of being “soft on crime” has scared away any politician who could DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT from even approaching the issue, but let us just assume those things have been said, shall we?)

Sorry.  I say things.

Smite does what he does because he can’t bear the thought of second-guessing himself.

So far as I can tell, there are only three ways to shoulder that burden.  My way is this: Even though I may be in error, I never allow myself to doubt what I have done.  That way lies endless recrimination.”

“What are the other two ways?”

“Pretend the people before you aren’t human,” he responded smoothly. “Then it doesn’t matter if you make a muck of things.”


“Or you can go stark raving mad.  Neither of those two options appeals to me.”

What I loved about Miranda is her willingness to not dance around and be all like “oh, should I tell him about the threats and blackmail and try and keep my sordid past a secret?”  No, she tells him, straight out.  She won’t argue with him about stupid shit, because he “wins arguments by profession.”  Also, she’s a scathing theater critic.  He takes her to a play, and it’s TERRIBLE and she’s making snarky comments, and he apologizes for making a mess of an evening, and she says, “I was enjoying myself.  It was that kind of awful.”

Given that Miranda has red hair and says things like this, I am taking that as a personal shout-out.  PLEASE DO NOT DISABUSE ME OF THIS NOTION.  It’s finals.  Don’t be mean.

Finally, the through lines from the previous books about the Turner brothers are delightful.  Ash and Smite and Mark have a lot of shit that needs sorting.  Also, Mark gave Smite a puppy in Unclaimed, and Ghost is a fantastic character in and of his own puppy-self.  We get a little more of the Turner-Dalrymple drama from Oxford.  A little bit more about Mark and Ash’s families now that they’ve grown up and gotten married.

I’ll just end with Miranda’s summation of their story:  “It’s a sweet tale, about kittens and puppies and rainbows and love.”  Yes, yes it is.  And also lawyers.

This book is available from Amazon | Kindle | BN & nook | Kobo | AllRomance

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Emmy says:

    congrats on going through law school. Please don’t abandon us like SB Candy!

  2. 2
    Jennifer says:

    I really enjoyed this book.  I have read a few not so favourable reviews, but I am a lawyer, and like you I appreciated sections of the book dealing with the law, as well as the characters and the romance.

  3. 3

    I think what I appreciated most about this book was how different Smite and Ash remembered their lives before Ash returned than Mark did.  Specifically, in Unclaimed there’s a scene where Mark talks about being starving on the streets but in this one Ash talks about how Smite was starving but Mark was “hungry.”  Then there’s also the lines about keeping their mother from coming down on Mark and a comment about protecting Mark’s virtue.  I’m not sure if she intended for me to read this into the book, but it gave me a new appreciation for the characters when I realized Mark was too young to realize everything that was going on at the time and everything his brothers did for him.

  4. 4
    Brigid Kemmerer says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a historical, but now I want to read the whole series! Thanks for the great review! (And congratulations on law school. My fingers are crossed for you with the public defender’s office.)

  5. 5
    KBR says:

    I’ve read all but Unraveled (I am waiting on tenterhooks for my new Kindle to download the story). I did read the excerpt on Courtney’s website and my first impression was that this was going to be the best of the lot (which really put me on tenterhooks because I loved the others). I am torn now though, because I have the paperbacks of the others and Unraveled will be my first Kindle download and I wonder how it will be to not have it on the shelf! Great review, thanks.

  6. 6
    Anony Miss says:

    I am SO glad you reviewed this, because I needed a forum to talk about HOW MUCH I LOVED THIS BOOK!! Oh my flipping gosh, it was so good I immediately did Kindle-goto-firstchapter and started over.

    This book is so good it makes me think I’ll never publish a book, because I can’t be THAT good.

    More likable than Lord of Scoundrels. I just… adored it.

    AND there’s an author’s note at the end that she gives permission to strip DRM from the book!

  7. 7
    Kaetrin says:

    What I liked best was that Smite was not “broken” and Miranda didn’t magically “fix” him with her magic hoo-ha. he had issues certainly but they negotiated them like adults. Some things about Smite never changed and others adapted a little as he came to know and trust Miranda. Which was refreshingly different and made the book special for me. Miranda loved him just the way he was (- like Bridget Jones, only in reverse!)

  8. 8
    Katie says:

    I loved when he called her “Miranda-comma-Darling”. It was swoon worthy. And when he mans up at the end, it felt so real and heartfelt. I wish Milan’s othe UN books for avaiable on kindle in the UK.

  9. 9
    ms bookjunkie says:

    I absolutely loved this book. Loved!

  10. 10

    Kittens and puppies and lawyers who can’t be tamed by magical hoo-has? I’m definitely putting this on the TBR pile.

  11. 11
    Taylor Reynolds says:

    A friend of mine delayed writing a paper yesterday by buying a new car. That’s the best delay I’ve seen yet.

    And thank you for the review! Courtney Milan is about to use up the rest of my Amazon gift card balances from Christmas.

  12. 12
    Angela Korra'ti says:

    I’ve got Unclaimed queued up on the Nook as a library checkout, but I think that outright permission note to strip DRM notched Courtney Milan up awesome enough that I clearly have to buy this whole series. :D

  13. 13

    I loved this book. I totally agree – when Miranda tells Smite about the threats – I cheered for a smart heroine :)

    Smite is just the best. One of my favorite parts of this book is when Smite vomits. When else would I ever say that about another romance book? LOL.

    And the Miranda comma Darling. Swoon. This is my fav of the “Un” books!

  14. 14
    Judy in Houston says:

    Excellent review!  Of an excellent book! 

    I positively devoured this book.  It was so good that it made me want to immediately re-read the first two books of the series.  I wasn’t ready to let the Turners go.

    Oh, and I completely agree about “Miranda comma Darling.”  Sigh.

  15. 15
    Amanda M Garlock says:

    As a fellow law student in my last year (this shit needs to get DONE) this book was fantastabulously lawyeresque.  The vicarious liability line had me giggling, too.  And being a sucker for big, dopey dogs, Ghost was probably the best dog in a book EVAR.  (Especially considering that pets in books are usually a weird sort of clairvoyant, which just pisses me off.  Guys.  Pets.  They are pets, not matchmakers.) 

    But the thing I most appreciated?  Like you, the fact that she didn’t throw in the unnecessary drama.  Nope.  “So I’m a member of the criminal underworld and the mob boss wants me to do work for him.  Thought you should know before I get arrested.”  Delightful.

  16. 16

    Thanks for a great review!  Another lawyer here…. (Canadian).  I think I now have to read this whole series.  I rarely find romance novels (or others) that make the legal parts believable and often find I can’t read legal novels or watch legal shows without wanting to bang my head against the wall at the gross inaccuracies. Julie James does a pretty good job with this in a contemporary context.  I’ve also been sucked into The Good Wife despite my better judgment since the legal parts of this show don’t seem believable to me.  I do like the back story though.  I’d like to hear about any other legal books/shows that other law types find readable/watchable…  Anyway, good luck with finals and hope you get an interview with the public defender.

  17. 17
    Ruthie Knox says:

    Yes, definitely, absolutely, everything you already said. This was one of those books that made me think, “Why even bother being a writer?” But then I got over myself, and just wallowed in the awesomeness that is Smite and Miranda. Go, Courtney Milan. Write us some more like this. It was effing fantastic.

  18. 18

    I also loved the part where Smite is going, “God, the poor part of town smells AWFUL, how do they live with it- oh, wait, no. No, no, nevermind. That’s my dog.”

  19. 19

    OH!  And in light of… last week’s? the week before?  The conversation we had about “if I knew you were a virgin, I’d have done it differently” Smite DOES that- their first time, he’s all raring to go, and she’s like “um, I haven’t done this before, beeteedubs, so…  just don’t be surprised if I have no idea what I’m doing.  Cuz I don’t.” and he’s like “OH.  Well, then to the bed it is, instead of up against the wall.”  They do have teh sex against a wall later, so it’s not like “up against the wall” is bad, it’s just not the ideal initiation, you know?

  20. 20
    Rachel Alley says:

    Oh thank you for doing this better than I ever could. I oved it. And the scene in the theater? Cracked me the heck up (being a theater brat myself)

    Also, I’d love to do the whole shout out for everything—this is book three and finishes the Turner trilogy. Unlocked (which was also darling) was a spinoff for the Turner series and an experiment to see if she could self publish this gem.  If you haven’t checked that one out, grab it for a dollar and enjoy a momentary love of the Turners (falls pre-Mark’s story) universe.

  21. 21

    @Reheadedgirl: “They do have teh sex against a wall later, so it’s not like “up against the wall” is bad, it’s just not the ideal initiation, you know?”

    Something I’ve noticed about Courtney Milan books is that almost all of them involve sex against a wall and sex in a semi-public/public space.

  22. 22
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    God, I loved this book. I hadn’t read the preceding one when “Unraveled” was released, so as soon as I finished my finals last term, I bought both of the books and read them in one afternoon. They were amazing. I’m only surprised that I waited so long to read them, since “Unveiled” was the first book that ever made me cry. Ms. Milan, I salute you!

  23. 23
    Karin says:

    “AND there’s an author’s note at the end that she gives permission to strip DRM from the book!”
    Thanks for that info, Agony Miss. A friend offered to send me a copy of her Kindle version, and I said no thanks, but does this mean it’s OK to pass along without feeling I’m ripping off the author?

  24. 24
    Candy says:

    Another lawyer here – also Canadian.  I really loved this book and appreciated that the author tried to imagine the ways in which basically just judges tried to apply often draconian laws in a way that made sense.  Smite could, at first blush, be taken for a formalist (the outcome of applying this law may be horridly unfair to this individual, but if it applied uniformly and procedural transparency is present, then justice has ultimately been served), but this was a relatively common viewpoint at the time, and remains a fairly influential doctrine, particularly in the United States.  In Canada there seems to be a much greater emphasis on substantive justice (how do we make a fair outcome given this set of facts and these laws?).  Smite struck me as someone who would be drawn to the “clean-ness” of formal justice – after all, judges who aim for substantive justice sometimes end up contorting the law or characterizing the facts strangely.

    Which is all just to say that I loved this book.  Any romance book that gets me thinking about formal vs. substantive justice 3 years out of law school is doing something right.  Plus I really liked the fact that the author actually dares to acknowledge that people can be scarred but not “broken” and that sometimes the scars just become part of one’s personality and that’s okay.

  25. 25
    kinseyholley says:

    I can’t wait to read the whole series.

    RedHeadedGirl – I’m totally down with you vis a vis mandatory minimums – they’re dangerous and I think contrary to the idea of a fair trial. Prosecutors have way too much power and way too little accountability under our current system – in one state (WY or WA, I don’t remember which) prosecutors have even talked about doing away with jury trials for drug cases – and I’m not sure the legislatures wouldn’t do it.  Of course, I’m a loud opponent of the Drug War and our draconian, senseless drug laws, but I won’t bore y’all with a rant about it.

    Except to tell this one story. My BIL, a fairly prominent business litigator, got called for jury duty once and ended up in the pool for a drug trial. It was something piddly – a couple of young dumb kids busted with a small amount of cocaine. Anyway, during voir dire (which in Texas is always, and by everyone, pronounced vore dire, as in “dire straights” – I swear to God), he was asked who he was, what he did, and he said I’m _______ & I’m a partner in the international arbitration practice of Very Big Deal International Law Firm, and I think this case has some serious problems.”

    And of course the Asst. DA is like OK, automatic strike, let’s move on, but the BIL raised his hand and said No, really. Your Honor, I’m an officer of the court and I would like to speak to you for a minute please.

    The judge says ok, BIL and Asst DA approach the bench and BIL tells the Asst. DA look, you have seriously overcharged these guys. This is not right. So they proceed to argue about it, and the judge ends up allowing all the charges (could he even have done anything if the PD hadn’t said anything? I don’t know). BIL, of course, was struck.

    The guys ended up being acquitted of everything, and several jurors said that even though they believed the guys had the drugs on them, they thought the state was way overcharging them.

    All I know is if I ever end up on a drug trial jury, I’m introducing the other 11 people to the concept of jury nullification.

  26. 26
    Candy says:

    Here, here kinseyholley. 

    Check out David Simon (creator of The Wire) giving a keynote address in which he urges university students to use jury nullification to protest the use of draconian drug war tactics to prosecute and incarcerate non-violent criminals, disproportionately marginalizing the poor and people of colour.  Below is a link to Simon’s Graham Porter Lecture.  It is long but well worth the time:

  27. 27
    Qmanh says:

    KBR, If this book turns out to be a keeper, you’ll end up buying the paperback anyways.  That’s what I do.  I wait to read the reviews, and then decide on what form to buy the book.

  28. 28
    Emily says:

    RedHeadedGirl – from one law student to another, GOOD LUCK! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you. This book (and the whole series, which I’ve never heard of) looks awesome; I’m in the same boat of the job waiting game/big projects due, and need something good to read. Thanks so much!

    And word on mandatory minimums.

  29. 29
    Sarah D says:

    Totally agree about mandatory minimum sentences.  And the harm done by sending kids to prison for drugs.  Not to mention, sending someone to prison is like sending them to Criminal University – they get treated like shit, conclude that society doesn’t care about them, make plentiful contacts with gangs and others who might guide them into harder-core crime…and then leave prison and can’t get a normal job b/c employers won’t hire someone with a prison record.  So…remind me why sending more people to prison for longer is supposed to make us safer?

    The New Yorker recently ran an interesting story about mandatory sentencing, taking the case of a 14 YEAR OLD in the midwest who was sentenced to LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE by a mandatory sentencing law (the DA decided to prosecute him as an adult for 1st degree murder).  The story is called “No Remorse” and in the Jan 2, 2012 issue.

  30. 30
    Zara K says:

    Oh Readheadedgirl, thank you for restoring my faith in romance reviews. After reading the novel, and pondering for a day or two, I read Jane’s review at Dear Author. And I was taken aback. C+? Are you effing kidding me? Really? Don’t get me wrong, I highly value Jane’s opinion, but I really disagreed with her. I went back and read again from start to finish, and was even more impressed on second read.

    I’ve loved all the “Un-” novels. I enjoy characters who have real histories, complicated lives, and no titles. I like smart characters, and I like authors who can write hilarious conversations and hot sex, sometimes concurrently. These books have those characters, and they are written smartly, with attention to detail and historical correctness. These books have style. Courtney Milan, thanks for writing them. The “Un-” novels have been stellar standouts.

    And I love Ghost.

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