Summary: Miss Jane Fairfield can’t do anything right. When she’s in company, she always says the wrong thing—and rather too much of it. No matter how costly they are, her gowns fall on the unfortunate side of fashion. Even her immense dowry can’t save her from being an object of derision.
And that’s precisely what she wants. She’ll do anything, even risk humiliation, if it means she can stay unmarried and keep her sister safe.
Mr. Oliver Marshall has to do everything right. He’s the bastard son of a duke, raised in humble circumstances—and he intends to give voice and power to the common people. If he makes one false step, he’ll never get the chance to accomplish anything. He doesn’t need to come to the rescue of the wrong woman. He certainly doesn’t need to fall in love with her. But there’s something about the lovely, courageous Jane that he can’t resist…even though it could mean the ruin of them both. — Goodreads
My thoughts: Courtney Milan continues to be a never-fail author for me. The Heiress Effect isn't my favorite Milan book, but it's a very good read and Jane may be my favorite Milan heroine (she has some stiff competition, though). Jane is wickedly brilliant (or brilliantly wicked, I can't decide) in her attempts to deliberately make herself unattractive to would-be suitors, all to protect her younger sister from their controlling uncle. Her blithe insults and casually clumsy zings are perfectly crafted and I found myself alternately laughing and gasping aloud at her audacity:
"[S]he complimented the Marquess of Bradenton on the cut of his coat, assuring him that his unfortunate slope-shoulders were 'almost unnoticeable.'
And when he sputtered in response and turned away, she set down her serviette and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.
'Don't feel embarrassed,' she said. 'It's acceptable to lose the flow of conversation. Not everyone is clever enough to think of something to say immediately.'"Behind the gaudy and crude mask, however, Jane is almost paralyzed by her self-isolation. Milan's heroines are often rather solitary figures with a small circle of intimates, and Jane is no different. Apart from her younger sister, she has not a single friend and she keeps it that way deliberately, despite her loneliness. Enter Oliver Marshall, the one person savvy enough to glimpse the real Jane beneath the mask, primarily because he wears one himself. While Jane spends much of the book trying to maintain her facade, Oliver is forced to grapple with issues of conscience. I loved that in order to cope with his politics-versus-personal dilemma, Oliver seeks out advice from his adopted father, Hugo Marshall, the hero of The Governess Affair (my review here). Hugo is one of my favorite heroes in recent memory and I was thrilled that Milan brought him back for an encore.
The love story between Jane and Oliver progresses rather slowly because it's initially not so much a romance as it is a recognition of equals followed by a begrudged friendship. She is attracted to him at first because he is the only one who recognizes who she really is; he feels sorry for her then begins to admire her determination. That admiration is rather breathtaking, given Jane's public persona, and as usual, Milan describes it in a beautiful and simple way:
"'If people want you to stop talking, or to stop dressing the way you do, or to change who you are, it's because you hurt their eyes. We've all been trained not to stare into the sun.'"Eventually, the two manage to bring things to the next level, but it takes some time to get there. Given how often couples in historical romance novels seem to jump right into bed, however, I appreciate that Milan makes a reader wait until things progress naturally and believably.
I always enjoy Milan's seamless integration of Victorian social issues into her romances (women's health concerns in A Kiss at Midwinter, middle class poverty in This Wicked Gift, etc.) and The Heiress Effect is no different. Jane faces sexism and misogyny at virtually turn:
"She's the worst of the worst — a woman with no birth to speak of, who thinks that her hundred thousand pounds makes her my equal. A woman like her, running about, spouting her tripe...She does damage to us all."The social inequality Jane encounters is not exceptional for Victorian times, but her manner of dealing with it certainly is. There's also a secondary romance that briefly explores colonialism and racism, and though I liked the couple, I felt that the resolution there was a bit too slick.
The Brothers Sinister series has been extremely successful so far and Milan has already set up the final two novels well. There's enough tension between Sebastian and a certain lady that I'm fairly certain they'll be the focus of The Countess Conspiracy while Oliver's reform-minded sister Free will then get her home book. That one is intriguingly titled The Mistress Rebellion (Milan notes this might change). Regardless of titles, I'm confident Milan won't disappoint. Oh, and P.S.: I adore Milan's covers. I wish more self-published authors would put in the money and effort to have such lovely images.
Publisher: Courtney Milan
Publication Date: July 15, 2013
Length: 281 pages
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author in return for a fair and honest review.