Review: The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

I’ve decided to add grades to my reviews as I do grade the books I read when I add them to my book list. I will add grades to my older reviews, too.

The Duchess War
by Courtney Milan
The Brothers Sinister series, book 1
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Courtney Milan, 2012
E-book, purchased
270 pages
Grade: B+

Synopsis: Miss Minerva Lane is a quiet, bespectacled wallflower, and she wants to keep it that way. After all, the last time she was the center of attention, it ended badly—so badly that she changed her name to escape her scandalous past. Wallflowers may not be the prettiest of blooms, but at least they don’t get trampled. So when a handsome duke comes to town, the last thing she wants is his attention.
But that is precisely what she gets.
Because Robert Blaisdell, the Duke of Clermont, is not fooled. When Minnie figures out what he’s up to, he realizes there is more to her than her spectacles and her quiet ways. And he’s determined to lay her every secret bare before she can discover his. But this time, one shy miss may prove to be more than his match…


Courtney Milan is one of my favorite writers. She has a great voice and I like the smart characters she writes. This book is the first in her Brothers Sinister series (though a novella called The Governess War is the introduction to the series). I am in awe of Ms. Milan because she is the model for a self-published author. She publishes smart, well-edited books with beautiful covers.

The beginning of this book made me laugh…

True, he’d retreated to the upstairs library of the old Guildhall, far enough from the crowd below that the noise of the ensemble had faded to a distant rumble. True, nobody else was about. Also true: He stood behind thick curtains of blue-gray velvet, which shielded him from view. And he’d had to move the heavy davenport of brown-buttoned leather to get there.
But he’d done all that not to hide himself, but because—and this was a key point in his rather specious train of logic—in this centuries-old structure of plaster and timberwork, only one of the panes in the windows opened, and that happened to be the one secreted behind the sofa.
So here he stood, cigarillo in hand, the smoke trailing out into the chilly autumn air. He wasn’t hiding; it was simply a matter of preserving the aging books from fumes.

He might even have believed himself, if only he smoked.

So we understand he’s hiding, but we’re not sure why. Then another person arrives in the room. She walks around the room, but when the door begins to open again she dives behind the davenport and is hiding within feet of the Duke whom she doesn’t see.

Minerva (Minnie) is the woman who dove behind the davenport…hiding from an unwelcome suitor. This beginning could be the start of many historical romances, but Courtney Milan has crafted more complex characters. Both Minnie and Robert, the Duke of Clermont have important secrets. These secrets could be devastating for both of them if other people find out about them. Minnie understands this, but Robert who has led a privileged life is more sanguine about his secrets and whether they are made public. He deeply desires to do something important with his life; Minnie just wants a quiet life.

“You probably think battles are won with cannons and brave speeches and fearless charges.” She smoothed her skirts as she spoke. “They’re not. Wars are won by dint of having adequate shoe leather. They’re won by boys who make shells in munition factories, by supply trains shielded from enemy eyes. Wars are won by careful attendance to boring detail. If you wait to see the cavalry charge, Your Grace, you’ll have already lost.”

Both Minnie and Robert must fight for what they want both externally and internally. Minnie thinks she wants a quiet life, but she soon decides a quiet life and marriage to her despised suitor isn’t for her–not even to keep her secrets. Robert wants to do something meaningful, but learns that even though he may be too important to be hurt himself, his very presence may endanger others. They fall in love, but because of their secrets they are vulnerable. They have to decide their love is important enough to fight for,

The best thing about Ms. Milan’s characters is that they are genuine people. They aren’t perfect. They make mistakes. Minnie already knows life isn’t perfect. Robert learns that. They both grow and change during the course of this book and it’s a joy to watch.

I’ve read all of Courtney Milan’s books and always look forward to new books from her. I’m so glad she is publishing her own books and I hope this is working for her, because I want to read more of her books!

The next book in this series–The Heiress Effect–should be out sometime between May and August 2013.