Form: e-book, Kindle format
Genre: historical romance
Target audience: adults
Sir Mark Turner is a twenty-eight-year-old Victorian male virgin and not ashamed of it. He has published The Practical Gentleman’s Guide to Chastity (yeah!), and has been knighted because young, sweet, innocent queen Victoria liked his book. Unfortunately the popularity of the Guide backfired; the author has been copied country-wide in the most brainless manner and became far more popular than he would ever wish to be. As he is also rich and his brother is a duke he has become a celebrity and every aspect of his private life is featured in newspapers. Every Victorian matron simply salivates at the mere thought of having him as a son-in-law, not to mention an army of Victorian misses stalking him with their chaperones, perfecting that famous pincer movement. What a pity Sir Mark cannot be actually bought at auction and leashed like a cute little puppy, saving a lot of time and bother. Have I mentioned that he is also handsome? Poor guy. He should have kept his chastity business private for his own good.
Tired to death by constant adulations of London’s beau monde, Mark decides to leave the capital for his family town, Shepton Mallet, a true backwater in any sense. Unfortunately his enemies don’t sleep and he does have a lot of secret enemies – all these men with ugly, black hearts, jealous of his popularity with women, sinful individuals who prefer drinking, whoring and gambling to good deeds, prayers and, of course, chastity. One of them, called Mr.Weston, decides to strike back, not unlike Lord Vader and his dark empire. That’s why our innocent lamb of a man is followed to Shepton Mallet by one Jessica Farleigh – a courtesan of significant disrepute posing as a rich, scrumptious widow. She was hired by Mr. Weston, to seduce Sir Mark and defame him publicly. Many other professional ladies had tried and failed before. However, our beautiful Jessica is very skilled (Weston knows it pretty well, being her former client) but also very motivated – she wants to end her shameful and not exactly secure life and she was promised a small fortune, 1,500 pounds, if she manages to drag Mark into bed and present his ring as the proof.
Will she be able to seduce such a paramount of male virtues, though? What will happen if he seduces her instead? Both sides seem to have too much to lose but romantic fiction, unlike real life, is full of surprises…
What I liked:
Let me first tell you that Ms Courtney Milan is a very intelligent romance writer. Yes, I know, a rare phenomenon indeed so even more appreciated when stumbled upon.
First of all, her book has a truly viable, solid plot – a plot which can actually interest you and amuse per se, not making you just turn pages jumping from one hot scene to another, as only too often is the case of many romance novels. The seduction of a man who officially brags of his chastity and means every bit of it is, after all, nothing trivial, even for a professional working girl. Sir Mark is not exactly a young boy and he must constantly watch his back, thinking not only about his own reputation but also about that of the family of his brother. Or so everybody assumes. Not to mention the fact that he is spoiled a bit by all that female attention.
As we read on, the author draws some surprisingly complex psychological portraits of the main leads, really adding a lot to the story. Sir Mark is perhaps technically a virgin but he is hardly innocent. He has known poverty and despair, he has lived insecure life of a street urchin, even if for a short period of time. He can feel temptation when a young beautiful ‘widow’ in completely wet dress is seeking a shelter in his quarters and one scene makes it obvious that, when lacking sinful female company, he’s been practising the most common form of male self-gratification ;-). What’s more, we are given a good psychological explanation of his chastity fixation and the attitude toward fallen women – something seldom touched by authors of pink literature.
The authoress also tried to explain in a believable way why Jessica is not a typical courtesan (so a lewd, cynical, mercenary and ruthless woman). She was born a vicar’s daughter and now she yearns for independence and security, seeing no future for herself in her trade. I must admit she reminded me a bit of Lydia, the youngest of Bennett sisters from Pride and Prejudice ( but with more brains and luck). If Darcy hadn’t managed to force Wickham to marry Lydia, she would undoubtedly have ended like poor Jessica or rather much worse – probably enjoying herself for some time but still landing frimly in the gutter. I rather liked Jessica, mainly because she was honest with herself. She and Sir Mark are like the Red Queen (or rather a Scarlet Queen like the Scarlet Letter) and the White King (those terms are from alchemy, sorry, I couldn’t help myself).
What’s more, I found in this novel a very good, although short, study of how success can ruin your life – I really liked the negative ramifications of Sir Mark’s popularity and the portraits of his epigones sketched with a great sense of humour. Generally Ms. Milan’s sense of humour made even pinkier fragments of this book palatable and forgivable.
Finally I must mention one delightful scene at the end of the book – a duel between dastardly Weston and…well, find for yourself, I won’t spoil you. Let me just add it was a really original idea.
What I didn’t like:
The novel still remains an adult fairy tale of Cinderella’s proportions, where a penniless courtesan with a golden heart gets her HEA with a noble prince charming against all odds. Even the Queen attends their wedding (why not some angelic choirs as well for that matter? Let’s paint the town red, etc. etc. I would definitely add some angels and maybe also a demon or two 😉 After all we are dealing here with a reformed courtesan) .
Also it seems that the authoress went sometimes too far trying to make our heroine more and more sympathetic. Jessica, having been debauched at a tender age of fourteen (I know, horrible) and then abandoned by her first lover, would have been most likely a completely deranged individual as an adult, even with that older French courtesan friend, Amalie, as her guide and support. You know that saying: as the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined. I also resented the fact that we never met Amalie in person – the authoress killed her promptly somewhere in the middle of the book giving Jessica one more reason to look for another friend but also facilitating her narration job a little.
Also in normal life somebody like sir Mark would have never married a woman of disrepute, even if this woman changed her ways and he really fancied her. The best scenario – he would have kept her as his steady mistress in a second establishment as it was often done in those times by rich, responsible and very moral gentlemen.
I could have listed many other excellently anachronistic negative points but what for? These books are read and written for pure enjoyment and this one has already exceeded my expectations by some light years. Yes, I know, finally I grasped it. Thick-witted, aren’t I? End of criticism then. No, wait, there’s some more. I officially hate Harlequin covers. That’s unchangeable.
If you feel like reading pink fluffy romances from time to time (not a sin, just a recreational activity of some merit), go for Courtney Milan. She will provide far more than just empty titillation and a cover featuring two skimpily clad and often faceless bodies. I admit I was seduced by this one. Perhaps it means I am going to the dogs but as I’ve always liked dogs it is not a huge problem I suppose.