This is proof that anthologies are great marketing tools for new authors – I had bought a Christmas anthology way back when in order to read a Mary Balogh story but ended up liking an unknown author’s story so much that I sought out her other books. Then, the only published work by Courtney Milan was This Wicked Gift in said anthology. As is often the case, it is only now that I’d gotten back to looking for her other books.
It was worth the wait.
Cherry-picking my way through 6 titles, I bought Unlocked, Unclaimed, Unraveled and Proof by Seduction (further reviews will follow suit, as and when I finish them). The ‘Un’ books are part of the Turner series, but since I skipped the first one (Unveiled; after a while, it is rather difficult to keep which straight, but nevermind), I cannot go into the whos and whats of the series.
Not that it matters, since Unlocked stands on its own and other than the ‘Un’ in the title and some vague relationship to the Turners.
Uncharacteristic for its genre, Unlocked was more the hero’s story than the heroine’s.The second part of the blurb (from Ms. Milan’s website) is much more illuminating than the first:
“Evan has come to regret his cruel, callow past. At first, he only wants to make up for past wrongs. But when Elaine throws his initial apology in his face, he finds himself wanting more. And this time, what torments him might be love…”
It is Evan’s discovery of self, and attempts to change his past that propels the story forward and, at times, Unlocked seems less a romance as a teen coming of age flick, albeit one that is set in 1840. We have a high school (the ton), the jock/cheerleader who deep down knows that there is more to life than popularity in high school (Evan), the peer who pressures (Lady Cosgrove, Evan’s cousin) and the nerd love interest (Lady Elaine).
It would have been very jarring but for Ms. Milan’s writing. Somehow, she manages to pull all the elements together such that I could suspend that niggling voice in my head that went ‘This is so high school!’ (i.e. modern, not historical) until review-time. For me, the best part of reading Ms. Milan’s work (This Wicked Gift and, more pertinently, Unlocked) is the feeling she imbues her characters. One can thus empathise with her characters – even the more unsavory ones. I say unsavory rather than villains, because she does not have real villains – just very flawed humans acting in understandable ways. To me, this is the real winner. Her heroes and heroines are not perfect unrealistic people (or worse, with unwinning personalities that readers are somehow expected to like).
I can count the number of times I have actually teared up reading a book (to note: Once and Always by Judith McNaught* and A Precious Jewel by Mary Balogh). This is another.
*Okay, so there was that ick-factor with the marital rape scene and psycho Jason. In my defense, I was fifteen. (Am I dating myself or what?)