This is the second full novel in the series of The Brothers Sinister
. While the book works as a stand alone, it probably works even better if you've at least read [b:The Governess Affair|13190596|The Governess Affair (Brothers Sinister, #0.5)|Courtney Milan|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1363009352s/13190596.jpg|18371803] (a novella about the hero's parents).
Jane Fairfield is loud, and rude and dresses atrociously. She is also an heiress with one hundred thousand pounds, desperately trying to scare off any and all who might offer for her. She is also the product of her mother's affair, and her younger sister's uncle (and legal guardian) won't let her forget it for a second. He wants her married off as soon as possible, but Jane can't leave her sister, who has an unspecified medical condition (probably a mild form of epilepsy) which means said uncle keeps inviting a long line of unscrupulous medical "experts" to try all manner of horrors in the name of science, trying to cure her. She needs to scare away men, not befriend them.
Oliver Marshall is the illegitimate son of the former Duke of Clairmont, and half-brother of the current one (the hero in [b:The Duchess War|13489919|The Duchess War (Brothers Sinister, #1)|Courtney Milan|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1363009176s/13489919.jpg|19028791]). He wants to go into politics, representing the common people and due to his background has to do absolutely everything right. He needs powerful allies, and can't set a foot wrong. While he seethes inside to have to curry favour from the same spoiled nobles who tormented him at Eton and Cambridge, he doesn't have a choice if he wants to win his seat in the House of Commons. Befriending the biggest social disgrace of Cambridge society certainly is not going to do his future career any good.
[a:Courtney Milan|2906892|Courtney Milan|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1245255772p2/2906892.jpg] is an excellent writer. I really do think that she is the best historical romance writer out there at the moment. Hence, it's not surprising that my expectations for every new book she writes keep getting higher and higher. As I said to a friend, prior to the release of this book, I think there should be a national holiday every time Milan releases a new book. That way, readers can savour her books properly, without having to feel guilty about completely ignoring or postponing any work they may be scheduled to do.
Unfortunately, this book was a disappointment. It was bound to happen, no one can strike gold that many times in a row. I was left at the end of this book, feeling that Jane, the heroine, could have done better. That's not really the feeling I want to be left with when finishing a romance from my favourite writer. Oliver was just a complete dud as a romance hero. He was fine as a supporting character in his brother's book. I was looking forward to reading about him in this book. He's a good brother to Robert, the Duke of Clairmont, and to his sisters who we learn more about in this book. He's a great friend to Sebastian (the hero in Milan's next novel, [b:The Countess Conspiracy|13489925|The Countess Conspiracy (Brothers Sinister, #3)|Courtney Milan|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1363009130s/13489925.jpg|19028800]). He's just a coward, having been conditioned into shutting up and suffering all sorts of callous treatment all through his years at school with richer, more privileged men.
He observes things from the sidelines, and never really speaks up for himself or others. True, he refuses to actually join in with the mocking and condemnation of Jane, and he doesn't humiliate her as he is asked to do in return for political favour, but he never stands up for her or defends her either. He misguidedly attempts to rescue his sister, a bluestocking and supporter of women's suffrage, from a demonstration, but she doesn't need help and he's yet again left observing, and inactive. It doesn't help that Oliver is described as tall, auburn haired, with spectacles, very similar to another romance hero I read about this year - Cross in [a:Sarah MacLean|1598076|Sarah MacLean|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1216068049p2/1598076.jpg]'s [b:One Good Earl Deserves a Lover|13424032|One Good Earl Deserves a Lover (The Rules of Scoundrels, #2)|Sarah MacLean|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1360543002s/13424032.jpg|18886693]. I know it's unfair to compare the two based on appearance, but I unconsciously did, several times, and Oliver came up wanting every single time. He does realise how awesome Jane is in the end, and how lucky he is to have her, grovelling very appropriately. It still didn't convince me.
There are lots of things I did like in the book, though. Jane is a great character, although there are inconsistencies in the way she is portrayed throughout the book as well. The various female relationships in the book, friendships and familial ones, are all wonderful. Jane and her sister, Jane and her two friends (especially after Jane can finally be honest with them about her scheme), Oliver's sister Free and her fraught relationship with their spinster aunt - all great.
This is the first Milan novel to have a secondary romance in a very long time. I can see why she wanted to attempt this, I'm still not sure it wouldn't have been better for Jane's sister to have her own romance play out in a novella. Milan writes amazing novellas. There is also some set-up for the next novel in the series, featuring the third "Brother Sinister", Sebastian Malheur, a scandalous scientist and his childhood friend, Violet, a widowed countess. Current romance tradition when it comes to series is that the most complex and messed up characters get saved for last, and if the tiny snippet from the next novel, included at the end of this one, is anything to go by, we are in for a doozy. It contained such an amazing reveal that I'm still reeling. I desperately want it to be December, so I can get my hands on it. I would still recommend Courtney Milan to anyone interested in romance, but I'd suggest they stay clear of [b:The Heiress Effect|13489922|The Heiress Effect (Brothers Sinister, #2)|Courtney Milan|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1373761621s/13489922.jpg|19028795] until they've read most of her other ones.