Trashy Read 2012 #1: Unraveled, by Courtney Milan
My digital copy of Courtney Milan's Uncovered, my last trashy read, came with an excerpt from her latest book, Unraveled. The excerpt was the length of the book's first chapter, and I was immediately hooked. The hero had an actual job as a judge. He's not a duke or a earl or in line to inherit anything! This is not something you see very often in historical romance, so I was intrigued. I bought a copy for my Kindle and read it in a matter of days.
Unraveled isn't particularly great, but what it does well it does very well. The story of the hero and heroine's relationship stretches credibility at times, but I didn't find this to be particularly disconcerting. Miranda works as a seamstress and wigmaker in a bad part of town, and she finds her life easier to live than many others in her position because she has the protection of a mysterious figure named the Patron. The Patron controls the goings-on in the slums of Bristol, usually through super-illegal means. The Patron's hand extends far, and Miranda uses her acting skills to serve as a false witness in court when the Patron demands it. Eventually, though, her scheme is figured out by the hardest magistrate in the local court, Smite Turner (which, by the way, is a great name for a cold-at-first romance hero). Smite finds he can't stop thinking about Miranda once he first admonishes her, though, and eventually he proposes that she act as his mistress for one month in exchange for her ability to get herself and her ward, Robbie, out of the slums. This works about as well as you can imagine, with the hero and heroine developing too strong feelings for each other and then angsting about it for 200 pages.
Despite its business-as-usual romance plot, Milan does a great job of fitting in a more suspenseful plot about the Patron's identity and downfall. Also, Smite's backstory is appropriately tragic without ever seeming overcooked. Apparently, Milan has two books about Smite's very different brothers, which I will eventually have to look into (particularly the one featuring his older brother, Ash, who shows up in this one and seems pretty cool). I didn't always understand the motivations of Miranda, but in general, I didn't find this particularly bothersome, especially as she turned into a more interesting character as the novel went forward.
Maybe the best thing about this book is something Miranda says to Smite at the very end, when they are declaring their love for each other. "You anchor me without holding me down," she tells him. Holy hell, if that's not exactly what the ideal turn-out should be in every romance. I love that line, and I love Milan for writing it. I am adding her to my list of romance writers to keep.