Unlocked by Courtney Milan

Genre: Historical Romance
Main characters: Evan Carlton, Earl of Westfeld & Lady Elaine Warren
Time and place: 1840-41, Hampshire and London
First sentence:It had been ten years since Evan Carlton, Earl of Westfeld, last entered a ballroom.
Verdict: Nice :)


“It didn’t matter what people said; if you pretended not to hear it, they couldn’t embarrass you. She need show no reaction, need have no shame. If you didn’t acknowledge what they said, you need shed no tears. And so she’d hid her head in the sand and locked away everything about herself but a pale-haired marionette of a lady.”

This has been Lady Elaine’s life for the past ten years. Ever since her first season some of the popular people (especially Lady Diana and her cousin Evan) have ridiculed her for all sorts of reason. They nicknamed her Lady Equine, they mocked her laughter, her mother, and everything else. As years passed and it became quite obvious she was heading for spinsterhood, Elaine had only one thing to be grateful about: Evan, the chief tormenter and the guy she used to fancy before all this happened, has left England, and one could only hope he will never return.

Evan, ten years older than the nineteen year old who was the darling of society and the inventor of most of Elaine’s nicknames and torments, is now a completely changed man. He realizes not how cruel he was, and comes back ready to apologize and make amends. Is it any wonder that Elaine is not happy to see him again?

General impression
I usually don’t care much about novellas, as I don’t think there’s enough room for the characters to truly grow in such a short number of pages. I started this one, however, mainly because it was touted as being number 1.5 in the Turner series, and I was curious to know in what way the book (whose protagonists I knew were not Turners) fits in. As such, I was somewhat disappointed (although I was somewhat expecting it) to see that the Turners (Ash, married and a duke, and Mark, recently knighted) only put in one appearance at a ball. I was hoping either Evan or Elaine were some sorts of cousins to them; but in a book as short as this it should have been obvious to me from the start that it would not be room for anything else :)

ETA: Oh silly, silly me. As I was putting the finishing touches on this review I checked out the book’s page on the author’s site, and Lady Elaine is mentioned as having made an appearance in Unveiled. Which is why I went to check that book, and now I am deeply ashamed not to have remembered Margaret’s friend (mentioned there as twenty-five and yet unmarried due to her unfortunate laughter) — I mean, I did of course remember Margaret had a friend, but her name seemed to have slipped my mind so much that ‘Elaine Warren’ didn’t even sound vaguely familiar, not to mention remembering someone by that name. So yay, this makes it indeed Turner 1.5, as it’s actually related to the series in a way :) :)

A small-town society can be a hellish place to live in if people insist in making you the butt of their jokes. Which is exactly how Elaine’s life is, and was for the last ten years. People can make you or break you, or at least that’s the way things were, back then — and while Elaine fights not to let any of them show she’s hurt, the fact that all she has to look forward to is a life of loneliness and ridicule is not something she can easily overlook.

Let us just say that I found both main characters to be courageous, and I like that.

Elaine has the courage to stand up for herself, and every time Diana jabs at her she jabs right back, for her own satisfaction, as no one else is on her side. She never complains, as she’s too strong for that, and she bears her burden as best and quietly she can, trying not to let her mother see that anything’s amiss. I cannot imagine how tough her life must have been in the last years, but she has born everything as gracefully as could be. Which isn’t to say she has no personality; she has, and lots of it, but she has learn to hide it as much as possible (even her ball gowns are pale colors only) in order not to stand out and become more of a target.

As for Evan, he has the courage to admit what he did was wrong, and to fight to make things as right as possible again. Having spent the past few years either climbing Mont Blanc or preparing for it, his views comprise far more than the salons of the ton. He now sees his mistake, and his main purpose in life is to fix it :) And yes, I liked that about him.

Another character worth mentioning is Elaine’s mother, the female version of the absent-minded scientist of the day. She is passionate of math and astronomy, and research, and calculations, and similar things. She has one of the greatest minds of the age… unless it comes to more mundane matters, as for example she’s completely oblivious to the way people are treating her daughter, or even herself. I think her obliviousness was a tad exaggerated (this is Elaine’s eleventh season, after all, and her mother never notices something may be amiss). I found her an interesting character nonetheless (how often does one get to meet a Regency-era female astronomer after all :) )

One of the things I loved most in the book is the way the relationship of Elaine and Evan of ten years ago was described. This was the riskiest part of the book if you ask me, as the reader must buy that Evan is a nice guy, Evan cares and has cared for Elaine, and Evan has mercilessly tormented her, all at once. If any of these parts hadn’t felt believable enough the book would have fallen flat. Needless to say, the author pulls it off. She does it so well that my regard for Evan actually went up a (small) notch. show spoiler

Thoughts on the title
Okay-ish, I guess. I do get the references to passion unlocked, and perhaps Elaine’s personality unlocked from the confines of self-consciousness — and yet I still wish it was something less generic than that.

Thoughts on the ending
Totally unsurprising :) show spoiler

What I liked most
The laughter :) I mean, OK, it wasn’t precisely nice sounding (somewhere between the sound of a horse and a pig, they say); however the fact that she used to have this unrestrained, glad-to-live-life kind of laughter definitely made me like her :) (and it also made the hero fall in love with her, but who’s counting :) )

What I liked least
Can I pretty please complain about the length again? Why yes, of course I knew it was a just a novella when I have picked it up, but I didn’t expect to miss Ms. Milan’s complexity of characters quite so much. I mean sure, Evan and Elaine are definitely not cardboard cutouts, yet they do not compare to the cast in Ms. Milan’s full-length novels (at least those I have read); not to mention the love story seemed positively rushed :) (not in terms of time, in terms of interesting things happening)

Recommend it to?
Anyone who likes a good Regency romance novella. :)

Buy this from amazon.com | Read it online or buy it (just $0.99) via Goodreads | Courtney Milan’s website | Courtney Milan on Facebook | Courtney Milan on Twitter

Other books in the Turner series:
Unveiled | Unclaimed | Unraveled

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One thought on “Unlocked by Courtney Milan

  1. This was actually my first read by Courtney Milan and converted me in an instant fan. I loved it. Like you the novella format often fails to captivate me precisely because of the length. It’s hard to find a story that’s believeable and also under 150 pages. This worked, and worked amazingly well – I absolutely loved it. I just finally read a novel of hers and really enjoyed that too, so she’s definitely won a reader with this one.

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