Unveiled by Courtney Milan

Genre: Historical Romance
Main characters: Lady Anna Margaret Dalrymple, Ash Turner
Time and place: 1837, Somerset & London
First sentence: So this was how it felt to be a conquering hero.
Verdict: Liked it & am looking forward to the sequel.

Summary:
After years of waiting, Ash Turner has found a way to get revenge on the distant relative who once could have saved his sister but let her die.

But the ensuing legal battle hurts innocents too, and Lady Anna Margaret is one of them. Although her brothers scurry away she stays behind, pretending to be her father’s nurse and hoping that when Ash will be around she will be able to spy on him, and use everything to her and her family’s advantage. She didn’t take into account the possibility that Mr. Turner could turn out to be likable. She didn’t think that she will fall in love.

General impression
First of all, I did like it. Ms. Milan is definitely on my list of must-try-more romance authors. It was such a treat to read this after reading and loving Unclaimed a short while ago. Especially as it allowed me to meet a younger version of Mark, still writing the book that will propel him in the ranks of nobility in a short while. Speaking of which, I am very glad that Unclaimed exists, as Mark’s character (a younger brother with a hard childhood, who is writing a book on chastity, of all things) definitely could use more exploring :) I am very looking forward to reading the book of Smite.

Characters
Ash is a rich business man who has built his fortune trading rubies. He left his family at fourteen, and he’s never gone to school. However, he has an unerring instinct when it comes to reading people, and to make himself liked by them; everything he’s managed to achieve is based on these two. And yet part of Ash feels he’s a failure. He has a responsibility to the welfare of the two brothers whom he adores, and all he wants to do is shower them with presents. They never, or very rarely accept anything from him, and Ash reads this as a reproach regarding the fact that those many years ago he has left them to fend for themselves. As the book opens, Ash is well on the way to inherit a dukedom, and a title. He is fighting tooth and nail for that, not for the sake of the money, or becoming a Duke, but for the things he will be able to do for his brothers if he succeeds.

And now you know my greatest weakness: my brothers. I want to give them everything. I want everyone in the world to realize how perfect they are. They are smarter than me, better than me.
[...]
And I’ll do anything—cross anyone, steal anything, destroy whatever I must—to give them what they deserve.

Either way, power suits Ash; he is intelligent, and kind, has principles, and has far broader views on society than his peers (having experienced a lot more ups and downs than most average gentlemen). He is a force to be reckoned with; and yet he has a vulnerable side too. This is one of the reasons I like Ms. Milan’s books so much, the fact that her heroes are confident, likable, yet flawed.

Lady Anna Margaret has lost everything — her fiancé, her mother, her fortune, her position in society. All her former acquaintances deny her, and she feels like she does no longer mean anything to anyone. It’s like she felt that her title, her high-birth defined her, and now that they are gone she feels there’s nothing of her left. Her one driving force is to help her brothers defeat the despicable Mr. Turner, in order for the three of them to become legitimate and rich once again. It’s interesting to notice how much she grows throughout the novel: in her previous, titled life she was nothing more than a silly child. Her misfortunes polished her, uncovering her inner strength; and then Ash came along and infused her with confidence. “You matter. You are important” he keeps telling her (and oh, how I loved that).

It is worth noting (something I also noticed when reading Unclaimed) that the characters do manage to have their own lives outside their love story. When they are separated they grieve; but they do not sit idly, looking at life pass them by, they try to get on with their lives at best they can. The mark of strong people, I’d say. It is easy to give up, it’s harder to go on. Their choices are not easy to make; their consequences are not easy to bear — yet Ash & Margaret (and Mark & Jessica) never let this stand in their way. And I liked that.

Relationships
Only one thing to be said here (other than my enthusiasm at the relationship between the three Turner brothers; they may not spell everything out, there may be misunderstandings between them, but it is obvious there is true affection between them, and that’s one of my favorite parts of the book(s)).

I remember I read somewhere a critique of this book that thought the employer/employee relationship that develops between Ash and Margaret was a touchy subject matter. And while I admit that I do see how such a relationship can generally be thought of as opportunistic, in this case I thought it very well handled. Ash has no regard for titles and social position. He never, not once, uses any of those to impose anything to the woman he thought was nothing more than a hired nurse. When he looks at her he never sees a subordinate, an inferior, but some magnificent creature that needs to be helped to discover her own strength (and he is happy to do for her just that).

A related quote:

“I want you to choose me,” he said, “well and truly choose me of your own accord. I don’t want you to wait at the crossroads in the hopes that I will force the choice upon you.”

Speaking of their relationship, and quotes, I found quite interesting the part where Ash first sets eyes on Margaret:

It reminded him of the cacophony of an orchestra as it tuned its instruments: dissonance, suddenly resolving into harmony. It was the rumble, not of thunder, but its low, rolling precursor, trembling on the horizon. It was all of that. It was none of that. It was sheer animal instinct, and it reached up and grabbed him by the throat. Her. Her.
[...]
It was not lust itself he felt, but the premonition of desire, as if the wind that whipped around his cravat were whispering in his ears. Her. Choose her.

Plot
A sort of Romeo and Juliet, in a way :)
Margaret hates the enemy of the family. She hates the one who made her lose everything, and she plans to do everything she can to help her brothers destroy him. But then she gradually discovers the man behind the name; day by day he wins her loyalty a bit more. Now, I already knew how this was going to end, having read the sequel and all, but what did keep me from even putting the book down (I read most of it in one sitting) was my curiosity regarding who will give up what, and how will they manage to reconcile their conflicting interests.

Thoughts on the title
I am somewhat conflicted about it. While I get what the author’s been trying to do, and I like the idea of a series with similar-sounding titles (Unveiled / Unlocked / Unclaimed / Unraveled), I am a bit unhappy with the title’s relevance to the book. I find it way too generic a word to actually mean something. Although to be fair it is not an entirely meaningless word (Margaret metaphorically unveils her inner self due to Ash encouraging her to believe in herself; Ash too unveils his innermost secrets) yet it is not as representative of the book as I would have liked (however I admit there’s a high chance the problem lies with me not the title).

Thoughts on the ending
As unexpected as could be, given the genre:)
show spoiler

What I liked most
I loved the way Ash treated people, especially those with a lower rank. Not only the class gap did not exist for him, but he also had a way of paying attention to people, of making them feel like they mattered to him. This is most obvious when it comes to Margaret, who is drawn towards him by this promise that she also could eventually believe that she mattered (something she has never felt before), and that she can be trusted. show spoiler

On a lighter note, I thought Ash’s threat to someone was pretty cool:

I will hire trumpets to stand outside your home every evening, where they will sound notes at irregular intervals. You will never have a solid night’s sleep again.

(cool in the sense that it would be so easy to put into practice, and so very efficient :) )

And the obligatory reference to Ash’s name (I did almost guess it, or at least the gist of it) :
show spoiler

What I liked least
While not precisely a complaint per se, the book felt a bit repetitive at times. Everything makes sense, nothing is gratuitously repeated, and yet… perhaps I would have liked it more if some words/notions would have appeared less.
(an example off the top of my head would be the part where Ash encourages Margaret to paint her own canvas, and she reminds herself to do so many times after; I got the fact that she was trying to garner strength from those words, and I commend her for it, yet as a reader I definitely wouldn’t have minded not reading the same idea over and over again so many times)

Recommend it to?
I am not a Romance fan in particular yet I find I enjoy Ms. Milan’s books; by all means I encourage anyone who doesn’t actively dislike the romance genre to give this a try. And then do also try Unclaimed :)

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | An interesting discussion about a main plot point | Courtney Milan’s website | Courtney Milan on Facebook | Courtney Milan on Twitter

Next in the same series:
Unlocked | Unclaimed | Unraveled

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