Mrs. Julien’s #CBRV Review #3: This Wicked Gift by Courtney Milan

Dear Godtopus, I have got to start reading different things. Even I am thinking I can’t possibly review another romance novel. I am working my way through a Victorian fashion picture book, but I’m not done yet, so here we go again:

I’ve written about the two men and six plots that occupy all romance novels, but I’ve given short shrift to the women, so this is what I’ve learned since my first romance novel review 136 books ago on CBR IV: She’s still either a Wallflower or a Victim of Circumstance. The Wallflower is a lovely, pert, overlooked woman who needs to get her light out from under that bushel. The Victim of Circumstance is someone who, usually due to exigencies beyond her control, has dim prospects and has to make her own luck. Both women are bright and self-sufficient, and, contrary to what I suspect many people think about romance novels (when they think about them at all), they are not being “rescued” by the hero. They either rescue him, or they find their way together.

When people are kind enough to ask me to recommend a romance writer to them, I always suggest Courtney Milan unreservedly (Correction: One reservedly, Trial by Desire, her second book). With the novella This Wicked Gift, I have read her entire output and thus have to writhe in anticipation of her next publication; fortunately, this one did not disappoint. It broke my heart and then put a smiley-face band aid around it.

A Christmas story, This Wicked Gift, is part Milan’s first trio of published works, including Proof by Seduction and Trial by Desire. William Q. White, a clerk scraping by after being perfunctorily disinherited, is in love with Lavinia Spencer. Astute, determined, and vivacious, she runs the local lending library to which he has a subscription, and she thrills to his presence as well. William takes advantage of an opportunity to be of service to Lavinia, and then takes advantage of her indebtedness to him, or so he thinks.

Milan never shies away from the grinding poverty of 19th century England and this book dwells not with the lords and ladies of so many romance novels, but with honest people trying to eke out a living in an often harsh and loveless world. To weave the fight against one’s own penury, place in the world, and the striving for some semblance of a comfortable life into a genre story based around romantic love is quite an accomplishment. It is indeed romantic and it feels realistic.

The last Milan novella I read, A Kiss for Midwinter, contained a heart-stoppingly romantic moment. This book contained a sentence that broke my heart into a thousand pieces,”You would need never feel cold again.” It wasn’t a romantic line, it was meant literally: You will have the financial wherewithal to purchase warm clothing and fuel to heat your home. Imagine a life where being warm seems like an unattainable luxury. Being cold is something I despise and resent. Whenever I read a book with characters living in poverty, being cold always occurs to me. I won’t even read the Highland romance genre because I am always thinking, “God, it must be so damp. It would just crawl through your clothing and envelop you for nine months of the year. I don’t care how good a kisser he is, he’s not worth it.”

This review is also posted on my tiny little blog which includes this year’s Shameful Tally.

5 thoughts on “Mrs. Julien’s #CBRV Review #3: This Wicked Gift by Courtney Milan

  1. Excellent point about the Highland Lairds – and the use of harsh socio-economic realities in the storytelling.

  2. Great review as always, and very accurate representations of the heroines of romance. See, I told you paying attention to the ladies wasn’t a bad idea. I hadn’t actually thought about the cold thing. I’m pretty sure I’d be able to handle not eating too much and having a very limited wardrobe, but I would absolutely hate the cold.

    I think Milan deals with social issues better than any author out there.

    • Thank you, Malin, and I agree, but I don’t look for too much realism. It’s escapist literature after all. It’s a fine line Milan travels brilliantly. Tessa Dare kind of makes a game of the whole thing; Julie Anne Long only lets reality intrude as required by the plot, but doesn’t wallow (and then the twee tends to takes over).

  3. I looked at this the other day but passed it up. I’ll have to give it another glance.

    I completely agree on the cold thing. You know what bothers me more? Lack of plumbing. I think I could handle a chamber pot for peeing, but during my period? No way. I don’t think even Jaime Fraser could get me to give up a nice flushing toilet and a shower.

    • I loved it when Claire told Jamie that the hot baths nearly won. NEARLY? The whole plumbing thing is horrifying to me. I love it when, depending on the decade the romance is set in, authors make a point that the house has modern conveniences.

      There is a scene in this book with scantily clad people in a poorly heated house in December. The romance was a bit undercut but the voice in my head saying, “but aren’t they FREEZING?”.

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