Book Review

Review: The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan


Title: The Suffragette Scandal
Author: Courtney Milan
Publication Info: Courtney Milan 2014
ISBN: 9781937248260
Genre: Historical: European

Book The Suffragette ScandalRedheadedgirl and I wanted to write a joint review of The Suffragette Scandal, but it turned out to be really difficult because we kept jumping up and down and screaming. 

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.

Redheadedgirl said:

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.

Our conclusions?

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!

This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | All Romance eBooks.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    KatieF says:

    Yes, yes, yes!! I was able to download it last night from B&N and it was just so wonderful. So many great lines. I would read something (PUPPY CANNON!) and just sit and smile and read it again. I think this is the book that’s going to help a lot of people break out of the reading slumps they’ve been in. It is absolutely fantastic!

  2. 2
    harthad says:

    I see this is the last book in a series. Is it necessary to read the rest of the series to appreciate this one?

  3. 3
    redheadedgirl says:

    It’s not totally neccesary, but I think it would help to have a richer understanding of how some of the secondary characters fit in to the greater story.  Also they’re all REALLY GOOD.

  4. 4
    meagan says:

    I am so excited about this book! I just recently dipped my toes back in the historical romance waters (after a few solid years of nothing but sci-fi/fantasy/paranomal romance) and The Brothers Sinister series is one of the best I’ve read—ever! So often historical romances seem stuffy, or it’s hard to relate to the characters, but I loved (or hated, or both) all the characters in this series. I discovered Courtney Milan through my library’s e-book catalog, but sadly they don’t have this one yet. I’m way too impatient to wait, so immediately after reading this post I bought it and am counting down the hours until my lunch break so I can start reading.

  5. 5
    Tikaanidog says:

    ok, you had me at ‘puppy cannon’! besides, courtney milan! you guys are soooo bad for my budget…. 🙂

  6. 6
    Ariella says:

    I am nervous about this book. I read the previous one in this series (and have read all of Milan’s other books), but I really disliked the Simon/Violet book. Like, a lot. As a female scientist/lawyer (similar to Milan in that respect), I really disliked the way she dealt with the subject matter at hand and I absolutely HATED how mean Violet was to Simon, and how Simon just seemed to shrug it off. I mean, yes, yes, I get it: internal turmoil and angst; she doesn’t really mean it, she really loves him underneath it all, etc, etc. And I also got that Milan was turning the tables on romance, so to speak, when she made the heroine all angsty instead of the hero. And yet the book so turned me off that I am actually nervous about reading this one. Your review makes me think it’s worth the risk, though, so I will probably buy and read it.

  7. 7
    Darlynne says:

    Resistance is futile, I can see that clearly.

  8. 8
    mel burns says:

    @Darlynne: You said it sister!

  9. 9
    Malin says:

    I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this (on Saturday, but that’s still FOUR whole days early). I think it’s by far Milan’s best novel, and I pretty much adore everything she’s written so far. The book gave me such a big book hangover that I think it may have ruined me for other books for a while. I tried to pick up two different ones, but had to give in and am now re-reading it, slowly, so I can really savour the writing and characterisation.

    I found Free quite annoying in her earlier appearances in the series, but now she’s probably my favourite Milan-heroine. And love is too small a word for how I feel about Edward. When it comes to grand romantic gestures, the thing towards the end, with the flowers he gives her – words cannot even contain how romantic I found that.

    The book made me laugh, it made me cry (in public), it made me read bits out loud to my long-suffering husband and I think I’ve high-lighted choice sections in pretty much every chapter on my e-reader. If you’ve never read a Courtney Milan – this is an excellent place to start!

  10. 10
    Niki says:

    Puppy cannon!  Thimbles!  (Both appearances of thimbles made me cry.) squeeeeeee!  A++++++ 

    @Ariella, my best friend started—and stopped—reading Courtney Milan with Violet’s story, and I am frustrated because I know she would adore this.  Please let yourself give it one more try.  Whereas Violet had been beaten down by abuse and was fighting a sense of impossibility surrounding claiming her own work (in other words, suffering mightily under the patriarchy), Free is kicking ass and taking names, and Edward loves and admires her hope and spirit.  There is a sense of joy and determination, plus suffragettes, a free press, and puppy cannons.  (I think there’s a chapter or two of angst near the end that I couldn’t totally wrap my mind around, but the resolution paid down any suspension-of-disbelief debt incurred.

  11. 11

    Ack, I am so far behind on this series!

  12. 12
    jane says:

    I didn’t even know that Courtney Milan had a new book coming out, so I’m glad I checked this site today.

    I really liked Violet and Simon’s story but hated Robert and Oliver’s stories. This review gives me hope that I’ll like it. Violet and Simon’s story had some issues for me but Robert and Oliver’s stories had MAJOR issues for me, and I just didn’t like them. Even though I’ve read them all . . . I don’t remember who Free is. Robert’s sister?

  13. 13
    Sarita says:

    Onto the as-soon-as-I-acquire-an-e-reader-list it goes! I’ve never read anything by this author before, so I’m looking forward to this.

  14. 14
    Lynnd says:

    I started this book yesterday and could not put it down – stayed up until 2:00 am and now have to drag myself through my work day, but it was completely worth it!  I laughed, I cried and I felt uplifted by the time I went to bed.  I will take the time this week-end to reread much more slowly so I can absorb everything properly.  It’s definitely a good book hangover kind of day.

    This book nicely tied up all of the various themes which Ms. Milan explored throughout the series.  While the book might stand alone O.K. as the main romance plot is not really dependent on what went on before, I would recommend starting at the beginning with the Governess Affair and reading through the entire series (I don’t know that it is necessary to read them in order, but I would read all of them before this one) because there are a lot of “grace notes” to events, characters and themes contained in the previous books which add so much richness to this one (eg. Robert and Free, the secondary romance).

  15. 15
    Terrie says:

    I just finished the book this morning and felt the same exhilaration. The thimble speech? I got teary, too. This series could be titled “The League of Extraordinary Women,” except that the series has extraordinary men, too. I agree that having read previous books in the series will make this richer in places along the way—the glimpses of Robert and Free were particularly moving, but this does still stand alone.

    I LOVED it. Free’s commitment and Edward’s unqualified support? It was unbelievably satisfying to read. Sad how timely the subject matter is, but the joy and vision in this is pure win.

  16. 16
    Becca Price (the other Beccca says:

    I just had a root canal – I *need* this book today!

  17. 17
    Abi says:

    I just this instant finished this book and I agree with all the squee. But the part that had ME in tears was Lady Amanda’s reunion with her sister and how her sister came about to the suffragette movement after having her daughter. This may be a romance, and I very much enjoyed Edward and Free’s relationship, but it was the discussions of politics/feminism that caused all the mighty feels.

  18. 18
    Diana says:

    I SO want to read this, but I’m scared.  I’ve read and loved most of Courntey Milan’s books, but the Brothers Sinister series has left me cold and unsure.  I’ve liked each book in the series progressively less, and I also completely rage!quit Violet and Simon’s book, because I had so many problems with it.

    This sounds great, but I am still on the fence about picking it up.  I’m having trouble re-building my trust, haha!

  19. 19
    K F says:

    I haven’t finished it yet (I had to force myself to take a break to put my daughter to bed), but oh. my. god. I LOVE it so far.

  20. 20
    Liz says:

    I had completely lost track of when this would be published but then I saw your review and had to get this book.  I seem to find Courtney Milan’s series hit-or-miss but I could not stop reading this one – the thimble speech absolutely did not disappoint (and neither did Edward’s homage to it), Free has now been added to my list of favorite heroines for so many reasons, beginning with her unwillingness to hide her intelligence or determination, and I have to agree with redheadedgirl that Edward’s proposal was brilliant.

    I’m glad I found this site before I read this book … without the ability to comment here, I’d have try to explain the Free/Edward banter and the sheer genius of the puppy cannon to my husband (who will to his credit try to follow along) or friends who aren’t fans of historicals.  How could you not talk about the puppy cannon; especially without a good deal of unalloyed happiness?

    As a side note, thank you all for my newfound daily allotment of snark.  Some of the reviews have made me laugh to the point of tears.

  21. 21
    Make Kay says:

    Oh yeah, I’m joining the squee on this one.  This book was AMAZING!!  I loved all the punctuation jokes in the story.  And I am going to say:  The Suffragette Story!  Huzzah!!

  22. 22
    Bonnie says:

    Just had to check that the Brothers Sinister series started after I left academia…  yes.  Now I don’t have to feel guilty for the rest of my life for having not included it in my syllabi. 🙂 

    Because SO MUCH to love, and then to wax professorial about!!  How the minor characters resonate with the major—SPOILERS AHEAD—Edward and Amanda, both exiled by their same-sex parent, both metaphorically wiped out of existence by their same-sex sibling…  both resurrected and their family relationships brought to resolution thanks to a new love relationship several years later…  hello fairy tale tropes in the best of ways 🙂  The Free / Serena and Edward / Hugo parallels from this book to The Governess Affair are also just so moving and brilliant, and I only caught them because Hugo tells Edward that Free gets her ability to turn the world on its head from her mother.  That one remark from Hugo implies so much about watching your lover become a parent and seeing what you love in her come out in your children.  (You also know when Hugo says it that Hugo has just seen that Edward sees what’s special about Free, and it’s going to be OK, even if Edward doesn’t know it.  We see the loving decades that Edward and Free are most likely going to live together in the decades that Hugo and Serena already have.)  Also, look at Free’s life vs her mother’s and you can see partially the accomplishments of this family, partially the accomplishments of everyone working for cultural progress in the middle chunk of the 19th century.  Thimbles at work.

    And speaking of how Milan builds depth across the books without in the least disturbing the flow of Suffragette’s narrative!  Having Amanda’s POV say that “Mrs. Jane Marshall obviously had never known what it meant to be conscious of her every move” is beyond briliant in its irony—if you’ve read The Heiress Effect.  It says so much, not just about the historical persistence and extraordinarily restrictive power of socially imposed limitations on women’s lives, but about how intelligent and yet how narrow our own perspectives can be…  another major theme of the series.  Milan’s work makes you want to break down those limitations in your own life, see from other people’s eyes so you can love them as they deserve (not to mention, yourself as you deserve)—and isn’t that WHAT ALL LITERATURE SHOULD DO?  Romance just makes it a little more obvious…  and therefore just a little more awesome 🙂

  23. 23
    erin e says:

    I loved this book- not only were the politics of woman retirement to today, but without giving much away Milan speaks to a separate relevant political issue in a profound and meaningful way. Rarely in entertainment does someone take this important and insightful position.

  24. 24
    LadyxBec says:

    This books is SO FULL OF WIN I CAN’T EVEN.

    I am down to making Good Book Noise and squeeing

  25. 25
    Sharmi81 says:

    I just LOVED this book. IT is the best in the series. It was great how milan built up the relationship before sex. The letters were the best. The words that sum it up for me- Puppy cannon, thimbles , roses and drawings, post traumatic stress syndrome, feminisim, wealth/privoedge, homosexuality, perceptions and true freedom- milan is just amazeballs. I think she opis the only author who can take such heavy themes and just make it into a happy, sexy, entertaining and uplifting story. i love milan, and this book reminds me of her previous turner series – which i think were some of her best books.

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