"Her Every Wish" is a novella sequel to "Once Upon a Marquess", although it is only very tenuously connected to it. It's about Daisy, the impoverished friend of the protagonist from the first book. I enjoyed it reasonably well. The protagonists were likable and both of them were poor, which was a nice change from the general "we are all wealthy titled privileged straight white people" that dominates historical fiction. In fact, the male protagonist is none of those things, which is extremely unusual. This is one of those "protagonists get back together after a falling out before story opens" romances, and the initial falling-out was pretty abysmal. Still, I liked it on the whole.
After the Wedding was ... ugh. I have mixed feelings about it, and I'm trying to piece out what exactly made me end up as dissatisfied with it as I am.
So here's the good:
I read most of it pretty quickly; after an early false start, I chewed through it in under twelve hours and that includes the time I slept last night. So obviously it kept me thinking "I want to see what happens next".
I found the protagonists interesting and their feelings for each other believable.
The supporting cast is good. The reunion between Camilla, the female protagonist of this book, and her sister Judith, female protagonist from the last book, was the most heartwarming and affecting scene in the book. Of minor characters, I found Mrs. Beasley especially charming.
The female protagonist is bi and the male protagonist is mixed race (black father, white mother), and as with "Her Every Wish" I found this reasonably well-executed and added variety I don't usually see in historical romance.
It's well-written. There are no rookie mistakes in pacing or timing, no characters who are underdeveloped or inconsistent, etc. If that feels like damning with faint praise, it is, but I have read badly written books and I want to be clear on this count. There's a reason that my scale goes 1-10 and yet the worst I ever give is a 5, and that reason is "because I have started books that are SO MUCH WORSE and I don't rate those because I don't bother finishing them."
And now the bad:
Camilla's internal monologue was unbearable. Literally, I gave up on bearing it. I just skimmed every time the novel went on about what she was thinking. The tenor of her internal monologue changes over the course of the book, from "I am the worst person in the world and I deserve all the substantial suffering I've gone through and everyone will hate me forever" and to "I deserve to be happy and maybe someday I will get it but first I must martyr myself" and eventually away from martyrdom but by then Milan stopped bothering to write out her internal monologue.
There was a lot of internal monologue before that point, though, and I found it all unpleasant to read and skipped a 4/5ths of it entirely. Usually I like wallowing in the characters' heads, so this is really saying something.
I found the circumstances that led to the wedding-at-gunpoint that kicks off this story equally miserable to read from the male protagonist's perspective. One of the reasons that I kept reading was that I wanted to see the mystery of "why these characters were forced to marry" unveiled (it's not for any of the reasons you'd expect, like "she was pregnant" or "they had betrayed any affection or intimacy between them whatsoever").
There is eventually an explanation for why the antagonists had forced the marriage. It's not particularly convincing. Both in that the motives seemed insufficient to merit this response, and that the response was not the best or simplest way to resolve the antagonists' perceived problem.
All things considered, the "forced wedding" plot device is probably what ruined the story for me. It's used as the reason why the protagonists can't be happy together more than as a mechanism to convince them to be happy together. The sex scene was utterly spoiled for me because Milan put it in with the Plot Hook Of Damocles hanging directly over it, so instead of "aww this is sweet" my reaction was to recoil in horror and disbelief. "Maybe the female protagonist is dreaming THAT WOULD BE BETTER."
Actually, this bugged me about the sex scene in Once Upon a Marquess, too, though to a lesser extent. But both books set up a situation where the protagonists have sex while one of them is withholding important information, and moreover it's information that could very possibly have made the ignorant party decide not to have sex if they'd known. It's seriously skeevy.
On a minor note, there are a bunch of nudge-wink asides to modern problems: a multi-page scene based around making fun of the Nigerian prince* scam, a reference to mansplaining, a complaint about the lack of pockets in women's dresses, and probably another couple of things I'm forgetting. These aren't done in an ahistoric way, but I still found it twee and tiresome.
Anyway, I am giving this book a 6, and it is easily the worst Courtney Milan book I've read. I still finished it, I will still read other Milan books, it's not the worst book I've read this year, even. But ... eyugh. What I like best about romances is re-reading my favorite parts, and there isn't a single thing in this book I want to read again. Sigh. It's not terrible, it's just disappointing.
* No, it didn't involve Nigerian princes or wire transfers, but same type of con.
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