File under: Finished at 4 a.m. because OMG. The Suffragette Scandal is a new Courtney Milan book and therefore the reviewers of Romanceland are swooning like Directioners at a meet and greet. Let’s not pretend I’m above that. Do we even need a review? Can we go now? Ok, fine! Free has replaced Smite as my new favorite Courtney Milan character. (She didn’t do much for me in her earlier appearances.) I really, truly, deeply wanted her to be a lesbian because in my head she was perfect for Violet Waterfield. Stupid writers and their stupid visions. Fine Courtney, write YOUR story. God.
Free is kind of awesome, actually. She’s the sort of self sacrificing activist that I roll my eyes at in everyday life. I mean, yea, sure, she’s right but her entire world is focused on her beliefs. She self harms to give a voice to the voiceless. She’s like, Wendy Davis or something. (Well, if Wendy Davis was a romance heroine and not a complex human with all the messy turns that a human life requires.) Free grinds out her daily newspaper on a press she cares for more than her own life. She knows she’s fighting a war she can’t win, but ceding the battle is unthinkable.
Edward is well versed in defeat. Where Free charged into trauma a willing volunteer, Edward was drafted and detained. He’s come out of it determined to lead a fully examined pragmatic life. Edward knows anyone is capable of anything, given the proper inducements. If he was a college student today he’d be reading Camus in the original French and walking directly through the center of the protest circles on his way to class. He’s absolutely lovely. He’s a whimsical cynic. Edward falls for Free because she has something he’s lost, a faith that she will prevail over all obstacles. Edward is so defeated he can’t imagine anything better than peace. Free still sees victories on her horizon. This is the rare romance that creates a whole from two imperfect halves without filing the edges off either.
As always Milan’s leads exist in a community. Surrounding Free and Edward are his brother, her brother, and all of their friends. Edward’s brother is the villain of the piece. I found his motivation believable. Free is a threat to his entire sense of the world. Without a rigid social order his self justifications collapse. If Free is the book’s Wendy Davis then Edward’s brother is its Fox News. One of The Suffragette Scandal’s best scenes is between Free and her brother’s brother. Robert has always been a fragile character. His imprisonment in the world of his birth is illustrated again here. Robert is afraid to reach for the things he wants. He is so self contained that his desires can’t even be seen by those desired. (Robert makes me think Milan could do wonders with a troubled marriage book.)
Milan’s gift for writing beautifully broken people slips in a subplot involving Amanda, Free’s best friend. Amanda’s scenes feel tentative, with more off the page than on it. The careful pace of her tale feels different than the assurance Milan brings to the rest of the book. I felt like Amanda’s life needed more room to expand, that she was better suited to novella length than a secondary character. A surprise reunion (one of my absolute least favorite tropes) added to my Amanda sad. That said, the pairing she’s offered is one she’s well suited to and one that improves her life as much as Edward and Free improve each others. My other quibble with The Suffragette Scandal involves a late book grand romantic gesture. I’m not a fan of these in real life and I’m rarely a fan of the fictional variety so that’s not terribly surprising. It’s a minor, tiny point in a big swoony stay up all night read. Let’s spoiler tag it.View Spoiler »Edward stays up all night crafting a gift from items he found in his father’s home. Despite his democratic beliefs, Edward is fine with keeping a newly met servant up all night to achieve this goal. While the servant is present to consent, the found items come from the servant’s quarter and could have been quite precious to someone. Edward sees resources and assumes they are his to use as he pleases. I kept thinking of some woman who works too hard and has too little coming back to find her prized collection of low value antiquities destroyed for the momentary pleasure of the boss’s wife. (Granted, she’s about to have a financial windfall.) I was a little surprised Free didn’t have the same thought. « Hide Spoiler
*This post originally appeared at Love In the Margins.