Thursday, 20 June 2019

#CBR11 Book 27: "Mrs Martin's Incomparable Adventure" by Courtney Milan

Page count: 144 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

This novella is part of The Worth Saga, and stars one of the minor supporting characters of After the Wedding. You really don't need to have read that book, though (unless you want to, it's good, but sad), this story stands perfectly on its own.

From the author's website:
Mrs. Bertrice Martin—a widow, some seventy-three years young—has kept her youthful-ish appearance with the most powerful of home remedies: daily doses of spite, regular baths in man-tears, and refusing to give so much as a single damn about her Terrible Nephew. 

Then proper, correct Miss Violetta Beauchamps, a sprightly young thing of nine and sixty, crashes into her life. The Terrible Nephew is living in her rooming house, and Violetta wants him gone. 

Mrs. Martin isn’t about to start giving damns, not even for someone as intriguing as Miss Violetta. But she hatches another plan—to make her nephew sorry, to make Miss Violetta smile, and to have the finest adventure of all time. 

If she makes Terrible Men angry and wins the hand of a lovely lady in the process? Those are just added bonuses. 

Author’s Note: Sometimes I write villains who are subtle and nuanced. This is not one of those times. The Terrible Nephew is terrible, and terrible things happen to him. Sometime villains really are bad and wrong, and sometimes, we want them to suffer a lot of consequences. 

Courtney Milan is a marvel. She writes incredibly satisfying, yet informative romance novels (you are unlikely to find historical inaccuracies in her stories, unless she's changed something on purpose) and manages to take a genre so full of tropes and frequent repetition and create new and interesting things with it. While most of her stories are about cis-gendered, heterosexual couples, she's big on at least a supporting cast of queer characters. She's had several bi-racial pairings, and one of her best books has a trans heroine and an Asian hero, not something you see in a lot of contemporary novels these days.

In this novella, while both the protagonists are cis-gendered white women, she manages to diversify the genre that little bit more. While m/m (male/male) pairings are getting a lot more common, in both historical and contemporary romance (so many athletes), you still don't see a lot of f/f (female/female) stories. You certainly do't see them about women around my mother's age. Romance really is so much about young people, I literally don't think I've ever read a story with characters who are in the later stages of their lives.

That the story is also full of righteous female rage and how powerless they can feel, and how important it is to learn to not give a f*ck and making yourself heard and fighting back against the patriarchy, that's just a bonus. I don't want to give too much away, but there is a LITERAL "watch it all burn down and make cheese toast among the embers" scene in this story, and it felt earned.

The two women in the story are from different social classes and while they interact and come to love one another, they also learn a lot and expand their horizons. Violetta has never had the chance to be brave and impetuous, Bertrice has always had the privilege of her wealth to protect her, even in a world entirely ruled by men. She has never really had to consider how difficult life is for women of the lower classes, and becomes kinder, wiser and less bitter over the course of the story.

This novella wasn't in the original outline for Courtney Milan's Worth Saga, but came to be as a result of some of the truly depressing developments we've seen in the news over the last few years. It's a terrible time to be a woman in America, the patriarchy keeps trying to wrest away hard-earned rights and this very angry little story is her result of some of the frustrations she's clearly felt. While I despair at the direction the world is currently turning, I'm glad Ms. Milan turned some of her anger and fury into another piece of great art.

Judging a book by its cover: The covers are never going to be a selling point for Ms Milan's stories, but this one is even more badly photo shopped than some. You once again get what I'm assuming is stock photo formal wear, this time with an elderly lady wearing it, slightly awkwardly placed in front of an image of the British Houses of Parliament. I love your writing, Ms. Milan, but your covers just really make me sad. No one's going to pick up a story based on this. However, the cover is tons better than that for After the Wedding, so that's something.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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