Wednesday 16 July 2014

#CBR6 Book 76: "The Suffragette Scandal" by Courtney Milan

Page count: 281 pages
Rating: 6 stars, yeah, you read that correctly

Disclaimer! I got an ARC of this through NetGalley, in return for a fair and unbiased review. I would also like to point out that I pre-ordered this book as soon as I could, so all the ARC did was save me another four interminable days of waiting to read the book. As for unbiased, I don't know if I can ever be unbiased where it comes to Courtney Milan, because I love her writing so much it occasionally actually hurts. With that in mind, here is my feeble attempt at capturing why you should drop everything you're doing, acquire this book and read it right this minute.

Frederica "Free" Marshall used the money she inherited from a reclusive aunt to put herself through college and establish a newspaper "by women, for women, about women". Her first story was an expose of the horrible conditions in a naval lock hospital, an asylum of sorts where they kept prostitutes suspected of venereal disease. She bravely and stubbornly continues to employ women and publish her paper, even though she receives offensive letters, abuse and death treats on a weekly basis. Recently, it's become clear that someone has access to the articles before they are published, and is making it look like the Women's Free Press is just copying from other male-run publications. Someone is determined to ruin Free's life's work.

Enter, Edward Clark, liar, forger, blackmailer and scoundrel extraordinaire. He offers to help Free, claiming he wants revenge on the man who's out to destroy her. What Free doesn't know is that the man who is behind the plot to discredit her and her newspaper is Edward's younger brother, and that Edward Clark was in fact born Edward Delacey, and now that his father is dead, he is actually Viscount Claridge. His brother is none to happy to see him return, as Edward's been gone for nearly seven years, just long enough to have him declared dead, so James can become the Viscount instead. Edward promises that his brother can have the title, he just wants to make sure that Stephen Shaughnessy, his childhood friend, isn't ruined along with Miss Marshall's newspaper. Of course, Edward's father and younger brother both left him for dead in a war-torn France nine years ago, so Edward feels absolutely no loyalty or connection to them. The Shaughnessy brothers, however, his oldest friends, and Miss Marshall, who is quickly worming her way into his affections, he is willing to use all his devious and underhanded ways to help.

As Edward and Free work together to foil James Delacey's plots against her, they naturally grow closer, and Free discovers that while Edward may lie, cheat, be an expert forger and blackmailer, he's also a genuinely good man deep down, but has been mistreated by the world for the longest time, and believes himself not only incapable of love but wholly undeserving of being loved or even trusted. Of course, Edward knows that if Free ever discovers who he really is, and who his brother is, she will no longer greet him with a beaming smile, but hate him forever.

I love Courtney Milan. This is no secret. I rate her book Unraveled among the best romances I've ever read. Well, that book has just been knocked off its top spot, because as far as I'm concerned, The Suffragette Scandal is her crowning achievement. As anyone who has been following my blog, or checked out my Goodreads ratings, I've never rated a Milan-book or novella lower than three stars. This book makes me want to break the ratings system, because it deserves six. All the other books of hers that I've rated five stars have little things that niggle and annoy me. This book is flawless. There is a secondary romance involving Free's best friend, Lady Amanda, the niece of Violet from The Countess Conspiracywhich is so subtly and cleverly done that I was honestly wondering if I was reading too much into things to begin with, and whether my mind was creating a romance where there was none. I don't want to spoil anything, but bits involving Lady Amanda had me sobbing on a public bus because I was so moved, and I cheered out loud when the story finally reached its very satisfying conclusion.

Frederica Marshall is Oliver Marshall's little sister and in previous books in the series, she struck me as rather abrasive and annoying. Of course, that Free was an opinionated teenager. This Free is twenty-seven, college educated and tempered by the massive challenges of being a progressive woman in a society that wants women to be seen as ornaments and help meets, not heard and given equal say or footing as men. All grown up, Free Marshall is a force to be reckoned with. I wish she'd be my friend, even though she'd be a bit too outspoken and keep frustratingly thrusting herself into danger for my tastes. She's not flawless, she knows that she's bossy and opinionated, and speaking rashly without thinking can hurt the people she loves dearly. She doesn't publish her newspaper solely to convince men that they are wrong about women, she's doing it to inform and empower women.

Love is too small a word for what I feel for Edward. I'm not sure there are words in any of the languages I speak (English, Swedish, Norwegian and a smattering of German, if anyone was interested) to describe how I feel about Edward. He's so guarded, and cynical and has been beaten down so much by the world and the cruelty of men that he has trouble believing in anyone or anything. He sees the world in terms of how he can take advantage of it, and gain as much as possible for himself. Free sees the world in terms of how she can improve it for the most people and make it a better place in future. They are so different, yet both so sharp and clever and lonely. Their banter is absolutely divine. Their second meeting involves Edward trying to blackmail Free, only to have her turn around and blackmail him more successfully. Their romance is seemingly impossible, but of course they find a happy ending, and the romantic gesture from Edward at the end had me in tears, again.

This book made me laugh, and cry, and swoon, and ruined me so much for other books that instead of being able to read anything else, I just had to start re-reading this book again, only more slowly, so I could properly savour the plot, characters and writing. I don't think there's a single chapter where I haven't highlighted at least one section or quote or small dialogue exchange. I was lucky enough to get an ARC, so I could read the book four days early. That means I've now been fortunate enough to read the book twice, only a day after it's released. Courtney Milan self-publishes, so consider buying her book if you can. Otherwise, find it at your local library or just read it in a book store, and rate it honestly on all forms of social media. Get the word out if you like it. If I haven't convinced you by now that you want to read this book, you are clearly a person who doesn't like good writing. Courtney Milan is not a romance writer, she is an excellent writer who just happens to be writing in the romance genre. Please give this book a try!

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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