Wednesday, 6 June 2018

#CBR10 Book 41: "After the Wedding" by Courtney Milan

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

I was very kindly granted an ARC of this book in return for an unbiased review. I had already pre-ordered the book when I was given the ARC. The book is on sale now, and I recommend that you buy it.

This is the second novel in The Worth Saga. While it might work fine as a stand alone book, I would recommend beginning with the first book in the series, Once Upon a Marquess, to get a better idea of whom all the various supporting characters from Camilla's family are.

Lady Camilla Worth was twelve when her father and oldest brother were convicted of treason and her family lost their money and social standing. Her father committed suicide in prison, her brother Anthony was transported to Australia, but there was a big storm and a shipwreck on the way and he is believed to have died on the journey. A family friend offered to take in the remaining Worth siblings, with the exception of Camilla's younger sister, Theresa (who could most kindly be described as difficult). Judith, the eldest remaining Worth, promptly refused, and when Camilla wanted to stay, because she wanted "pretty dresses and lemon cakes", very harsh words were had, then Judith took her other two siblings and left. Camilla has never been able to forget Judith's angry words, and sadly didn't get to stay with their "uncle" for many weeks before he shipped her off to some friends, unable to care for a moody young girl. Camilla never gets to stay in one place for very long, getting sent on whenever she is deemed too difficult or whomever she ended up serving (usually unpaid) died and after eight years, believes she is being punished for having chosen material comfort over love all those years ago. Now she's working for a pittance for a minister who claims he's saving her soul. This is where she meets, and is married at gunpoint to Adrian.

Adrian Hunter is the grandson of a duke. His mother married a black abolitionist, and as a result, some of her family don't really want to acknowledge her or her family. Three of Adrian's brothers died fighting in the American Civil War, so now he's desperate to prove himself in some way and one of the ways in which he tries to do that is by getting his uncle, Bishop Denmore, to publicly support Adrian and his remaining brother. His uncle just needs a teeny tiny little favour first - which involves Adrian posing as a valet for a rival bishop, and finding proof of said man's corruption. Once he obtains this proof, Denmore promises to openly acknowledge his nephews and sister. Adrian is not a very good valet and before he has any chance of finding anything incriminating, he finds himself married at gunpoint to Camilla, a flirtatious housemaid in the house Bishop Lassiter is visiting.

Camilla just wants someone, anyone, to love her or even like her. She hasn't had anywhere to call home for so long and never had any responses to the letters she sent her family, so she assumes they still want nothing to do with her. While she is rather taken aback by being forced to marry a near-stranger, she's also briefly hopeful that at least she'll finally have someone - a hope that dies when Adrian insists they need to get an annulment. Ms Milan is really good at writing characters whose suffering break your heart, and Camilla's loneliness and hopes for belonging are truly heart-wrenching. Unbeknownst to Camilla, however, her family haven't actually given up on her. Her sister Judith and her new husband have spent massive resources trying to track her down, only to fail, and her younger siblings, Benedict and Theresa, are determined to find Camilla, as a gift for Judith. While Theresa may have annoyed the crap out of me in Once Upon a Marquess, she's so much better written in this book, and I am very much looking forward to seeing where her story goes in future books.

I felt a lot more for Camilla than for Adrian in this book, but that's probably also because of my anxiety and being left without anyone is literally one of the biggest fears I have, so our poor heroine having suffered abandonment after abandonment, without ever giving up that last sliver of hope really got to me. The main theme of this book is the importance of consent and choice and how no one should have to settle, but be allowed to choose who they spend their lives with. Adrian wants their marriage annulled because he wants what his parents had, a slow falling in love and a mutual choosing of each other. As the story progresses, Camilla comes to realise that even though she loves Adrian, she also deserves someone who chose HER, whose fondest wish is to share their life with hers. It's not her fault that she's been abandoned so many times and it's simply bad luck and a series of unfortunate circumstances that's caused her to be so harshly punished for a moment of youthful bad judgement.

There is a need for added diversity in romance and Ms Milan has proven before that historical England really wasn't as white-washed as a lot of books would like you to think it is. In this book, we get a bisexual heroine marrying a biracial hero, while there is a large cast of diverse supporting characters from a number of countries and cultures making a difference, without it ever seeming forced or like she's trying to prove some sort of point. Adrian's brother is going to be the hero of the next book, if I'm to believe Ms. Milan's website and this will be the last book in the Worth Saga set in England. She's moving the action into the big wider world instead.

I'm sorry if this review is disjointed and a bit incoherent. I'm desperately behind on my reviews as my now four month old little boy is spending more of his days awake and demanding a lot more of my attention. My brain goes a bit muddled, and this was the best I could do under the circumstances. TL, DR - this is a moving and engaging romance, well worth your time, and you should consider buying it. I'm already looking forward to seeing what the next book holds, and hope the wait for it will not be as long as for this one.

Judging a book by its cover: I keep looking at this cover and trying to understand what in the world is going on. There's the strangely yellow sky, the random field of red flowers (poppies maybe?) and our poor cover model, obviously supposed to portray Camilla, with some sort of hazy lace tablecloth stuck to her head at an implausible angle. There's the voluminous purple ballgown the woman is wearing (resembling nothing like I recall Camilla wearing at any point in the book - certainly NOT when she is being forced to marry), but it's the awful veil that gets me every time. I've seen a lot of bad book covers over the years, this is near the top.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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