Sunday 29 April 2018

#CBR10 Book 36: "The Countess Conspiracy" by Courtney Milan

Page count:
Audio book length: 10 hrs 49 mins
Rating: 5 stars

This is a re-read, my original review of this book can be found here. The book can be read on its own, but works better if you've read at least The Heiress Effect

The final book in a trilogy is always supposed to be about the most complicated of the characters, right? As it turns out, this wasn't actually the final book in the series, as the novella Ms Milan intended for Free Marshall turned into a fourth novel, but this is nevertheless the book and the characters she planned the whole series around. She always intended to write about the brilliant lady scientist, having her male best friend pass her work off as his, because it was inappropriate and unacceptable for her to present it herself (and she was unlikely to get it published in the first place). Still, when it was revealed at the end of The Heiress Effect that Violet was in fact the scandalous scientist, and that Sebastian was becoming more and more depressed having to present her research, it was a jaw-dropping revelation (I didn't really know about all the lady scientists over the years this literally happened to).

I always have to brace myself to re-read this book, because Violet breaks my heart like none other. Due to the way she's been brought up, she's so very closed off from the people around her and while she's absolutely brilliant, a genius in her field, she's so absolutely clueless about friendship and emotions and can't recognise friendship and affection when it's very much being offered up to her. Her marriage, which may have started out ok, did not end well and her husband's growing resentment and eventual callous disregard certainly didn't help with her self esteem issues. Violet loves her sister, but their relationship is also a tricky one - with Violet having to face her sister's ridiculous fecundity, while Violet herself is a childless widow, who never managed to produce the heir her husband so desperately wanted, making her a failure as both a wife and a Victorian woman.

In addition, the scientific achievements that Violet has worked on for years, her real "babies" so to speak, are seen as so inappropriate and scandalous. When she tried to have her first paper published under her own name, no one would even read it, and only once Sebastian signed his name to it did anyone deem to take notice. When he presents her findings in lectures, the crowd is half made up of interested fellow scientists, but just as much outraged citizens who are appalled and disgusted and want to protest Sebastian's audacity.

Over the course of the book, Sebastian and Violet discover that they are not the only ones who have taken to deception and chosen to present a woman's work as that of a man. Ms Milan very specifically addresses the issue in her afterword - history is full of women who have been overlooked and forgotten, because it wasn't appropriate for them to speak their minds. So many scientific discoveries are credited to men, when women were the minds behind them.

Where a lot of authors are quite happy just to write a satisfying historical romance, Ms Milan wants her books to be about more than just the HEA. What is so impressive is that she manages to cover serious issues without ever seeming heavy-handed and preachy. The Countess Conspiracy is a lovely romance - Violet and Sebastian have known each other since they were children, and Sebastian has loved her for more than half his life. He's just waiting for Violet to realise she's worth loving. And even when Violet can't believe herself worthy of love or affection, she is Sebastian's staunchest defender and champion. Their relationship is deeply satisfying, and you learn things along the way as well.

Judging a book by its cover: Another edited wedding dress, this one in purple. Violet is described as wearing a lot of purple, and on re-reading this time, I wondered if it's actually a way to signalise her mourning for all the pregnancies that never went anywhere. Purple was after all a colour of half-mourning in Victorian times.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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