My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s a romance staple to do a series of interconnected books all featuring siblings in the same family, or employees of the same agency, or what have you. Courtney Milan’s Turner series is no exception. And happily, Unclaimed, the second book in the series, turned out to be just as much fun for me as the first.
Book 1 was the story of Ash, the oldest of the three brothers; Book 2 picks up with his younger brother Mark. Mark’s an example of Milan cheerfully subverting another romance trope–because here, it’s Mark, not the heroine of the novel, who’s the one without sexual experience. This is by no means not Mark’s only defining trait, but it’s an important one that sets the course for the entire plot.
Mr. Turner–or rather, I should say, Sir Mark Turner, because the Queen has knighted him for his service to the nation’s morality–has written a treatise, the Gentlemen’s Practical Guide to Chastity. In her intro to the novel, Milan talks about how she wanted to write about a character with a rock star’s level of fame, but since she’s a writer of historicals, she had to figure out how to work it into the book in a period-appropriate fashion. Hence, Sir Mark’s Guide!
Exactly how berserk England goes over his work is one of the somewhat sillier things about the novel, but in the context of the story I was willing to go along with it. Why Mark wrote it and how he reacts to the scores of young men (and older women towing their young daughters) who fawn over him are hugely important aspects of his character. And I’ve got to say, I found his resolve to remain chaste until he finds the exact right woman for him refreshing and charming, especially after all the reading of urban fantasy and paranormal romance I’ve done for the last several years.
Set off in strong contrast to Mark is our heroine, Jessica, a courtesan who’s been paid to seduce him and ruin him in the eyes of the public. And as with Book 1, Jessica finds out fast that she genuinely likes Mark, and it doesn’t take her long at all to back away hard from the idea of causing his public downfall.
There’s all sorts of stuff that could be said here about the roles of gender and sexuality in this situation. And the book does, in fact, say them. Happily, it does so in a way that came across to me as natural for the characters and their interactions, without ever getting preachy. Mark calls out the hypocrisy of society’s encouraging men to express their lusts, or at any rate not punishing them for it, while holding women to far stricter standards. An oh-so-modern and enlightened attitude for a man in the 1830’s? Sure. But as put forth by Mark, it’s sincere and believable. It helps a lot as well that Jessica has a great deal of agency as the plot progresses, especially in the final third of the story. And it helps, too, that there’s a reasonably small amount of angst and drama as Jessica’s initial goal is inevitably revealed.
As with Book 1, I had some minor quibbles with plausibility–but only minor ones. And I’m eagerly heading on to read Book 3! Four stars.