Review: The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan

Review: The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney MilanThe Duke Who Didn't by Courtney Milan
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance
Series: Wedgeford Trials #1
Pages: 311
Published by Courtney Milan on September 22, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Miss Chloe Fong has plans for her life, lists for her days, and absolutely no time for nonsense. Three years ago, she told her childhood sweetheart that he could talk to her once he planned to be serious. He disappeared that very night.
Except now he’s back. Jeremy Wentworth, the Duke of Lansing, has returned to the tiny village he once visited with the hope of wooing Chloe. In his defense, it took him years of attempting to be serious to realize that the endeavor was incompatible with his personality.
All he has to do is convince Chloe to make room for a mischievous trickster in her life, then disclose that in all the years they’ve known each other, he’s failed to mention his real name, his title… and the minor fact that he owns her entire village.
Only one thing can go wrong: Everything.

My Review:

I couldn’t settle down to read any of the things I had planned this weekend (Gee, I wonder why?) and this looked like fun and fluff, and this was a good weekend to read something about a woman of color with agency in a time and place where it wasn’t the norm, because, again gee, there’s a lot of glass lying around from all the ceilings that got broken over the weekend.

The Duke Who Didn’t turned out to be the perfect thing to read this weekend. Not that it’s perfect, exactly, but that it had just the right mixture of fun, fluff, fantasy and romance to get me into it and encourage me to keep the smile that was already splitting my face.

There is just a bit of a fantasy feel at the beginning of The Duke Who Didn’t. That this story takes place in the southeast of England in 1891, in a village whose population is primarily British-Chinese seems just a bit outside readers’ expectations of late-Victorian era English-set historical romance. That the village has a well-known once-a-year contest – with slightly obscure rules – that temporarily explodes the population, sounds a bit like Brigadoon a place that only comes to life once a year. That’s not quite the situation here, but comparisons could be drawn.

That the contest has a basis in historical reality is kind of the icing on the cake. The story is definitely the cake. Or possibly it’s a delicious steam bun, a bao, filled with pork and exquisite sauce. Actually the story is a lot about the sauce. Because Chloe Fong is all about the sauce – especially when she’s trying not to be all about Jeremy Yu. And even when she is.

Escape Rating A-: I’m bringing in the rating early because this is a book that is just so much fun that I need to squee about the details. Not all the details, but enough to get you to pick up this book.

On the one hand, the community of Wedgeford doesn’t quite seem historically real, because of its mixed race, primarily Chinese-British, population. At the same time, I don’t care, although if such a community existed, I’d love to know. But if the options for representation in historical fiction involve a little bit of handwavium, I’m all for it. I don’t need historical accuracy in my historical fiction, I just need historical plausibility – and that is definitely present.

The story of the origins of Wedgeford as it exists in this story feels possible – maybe not likely – but possible. And it’s enough to make the leap into willing suspension of disbelief. Because the author doesn’t gloss over Jeremy’s, and Chloe’s, “acceptance” in the rest of British society – it’s every bit as awful as we imagine. The entire world isn’t different – just this one tiny corner of it.

A part of the premise of this story has been done before, and multiple times, including in A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian. Jeremy Yu is the Duke of Lansing, the man who in fact owns the entire town of Wedgeford, lock, stock, barrel and every single house and building in the place. But his estate hasn’t collected rents in over 50 years, and he has no plans to ever start.

Jeremy has been coming to Wedgeford since he was 12 or so, once a year for the Wedgeford Trials. He’s never told anyone in Wedgeford that he’s the Duke. He doesn’t want anyone in Wedgeford to know that he’s the Duke, because they would treat him differently.

And he really, really doesn’t want to be treated differently. Wedgeford is the one place in England where he can be exactly who he is without apology, a young British-Chinese man who is proud of his heritage. ALL of his heritage and not just the bits that are acceptable to British so-called “polite” society.

In other stories, like the above mentioned A Duke in Disguise, the hidden Duke’s, well, ducalness, comes as a great shock to all when it is finally revealed. Jeremy’s story turns that on its head wonderfully in a way that I won’t reveal. It’s a way that should have been obvious to both Jeremy and the reader, but wasn’t. What it was was delightful. Absolutely.

Actually, delightful is the best word for the whole story. The portrait of the community is lovely, the trials themselves are an absolute hoot, and in the middle of it all is the oh-so-organized Miss Chloe Fong, her dreams, her ambitions and all of her lists, her love for her father and her need to help him get revenge on the British gentlemen who stole his work and his recipe and tossed him to the curb. And her lists. Have I mentioned her obsessive lists? Chloe certainly would. She’s never without them.

And then there’s the food. The descriptions of the food are absolutely mouth-watering, as is the romance between Jeremy and Chloe, the serious young woman and the trickster who adores her. To the point of willingly consuming endless meals of hot peppers in order to gain her father’s respect. Or at least his forbearance.

So come for the Trials, and stay for this saucy tale of love and tasty revenge. Revenge served not cold this time, but hot, flavored with the best sauce ever..

Review: The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

Review: The Governess Affair by Courtney MilanThe Governess Affair (Brothers Sinister, #0.5) by Courtney Milan
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Brothers Sinister #0.5
Pages: 96
Published by Courtney Milan on April 21st 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

She will not give up. Three months ago, governess Serena Barton was let go from her position. Unable to find new work, she's demanding compensation from the man who got her sacked: a petty, selfish, swinish duke. But it's not the duke she fears. It's his merciless man of business -- the man known as the Wolf of Clermont. The formidable former pugilist has a black reputation for handling all the duke's dirty business, and when the duke turns her case over to him, she doesn't stand a chance. But she can't stop trying -- not with her entire future at stake.He cannot give in.Hugo Marshall is a man of ruthless ambition -- a characteristic that has served him well, elevating the coal miner's son to the right hand man of a duke. When his employer orders him to get rid of the pestering governess by fair means or foul, it's just another day at the office. Unfortunately, fair means don't work on Serena, and as he comes to know her, he discovers that he can't bear to use foul ones. But everything he has worked for depends upon seeing her gone. He'll have to choose between the life that he needs, and the woman he is coming to love... The Governess Affair is a novella of about 32,500 words.

My Review:

Courtney Milan is an author who has been highly recommended to me on multiple occasions. After reading The Governess Affair I certainly understand why.

This wasn’t quite what I expected based on the blurb – but in a good way. I haven’t been reading as much romance as I used to, particularly historical romance, because the characters and the situation have become increasingly difficult to identify with. Love may conquer a lot, but it doesn’t conquer ALL.

Heroines with agency often feel anachronistic, while heroines without agency just aren’t worth bothering with.

But The Governess Affair was an extremely pleasant surprise. Heroine Serena Barton has grabbed her agency with both hands and is hanging onto it as if it is her only hope – because it is. Even though the deck is stacked high against her from the very beginning, she never lets go. At the same time the way that she takes that agency feels like it fits into her time and place. Because what she is demanding is her due in that time and place – no more and no less.

The hero, Hugo Marshall, is every bit as fascinating because he’s the kind of person that we know must have existed but doesn’t usually find himself the hero of a romance. He’s not particularly handsome. Not that he’s ugly either, just that he’s relatively ordinary.

He’s definitely not an aristocrat. In fact, the aristocrat is the villain of this piece and deservedly so.

Instead, Hugo Marshall works for a living. Admittedly he begins the story as the villainous aristocrat’s “fixer”, but it is definitely work. Hugo’s not striving for a life of idle luxury, just enough money and contacts to stake himself in business. He’s ambitious, hard-working and just plain hard. (Take that wherever your imagination wants to go)

But Serena has made herself a problem for Hugo’s employer. It’s Hugo’s job to eliminate his employer’s problems – one way or another.

He doesn’t resort to murder. It’s not that kind of problem elimination. Hugo’s usual methods are payoffs and ruination.

The problem is that Serena doesn’t want a small payoff because it won’t be enough to fix HER problems. And he really can’t ruin her because his employer has already done that.

And Hugo discovers that he can’t bring himself to do it again – no matter how much his own future rides on the outcome.

Escape Rating A-: I’ve had this book in my virtually towering TBR pile for almost seven years. It zoomed to the top of that rather large pile this week when the news of the dumpster fire at the Romance Writers of America broke on Xmas Eve. It’s a story of WTF’ery, of tone policing, of organizational idiocy, of having no clue about the way that social media works on the eve of 2020, and of trying to lock the barn door after the horse has gone while attempting to pretend that there was never a horse in the first place AND blaming the jockey for raising the alarm about the missing equine. A brief summary – with documents – can be found at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. The TL;DR version is that RWA officially blamed an author of color for calling out racism in the industry and pretty much the entire industry except the pearl-clutchers clapped back. HARD. Courtney Milan is the author blamed for calling out her own experience. So I wanted to send love both in the form of a review of something I had already purchased and the purchase of something new.

Which led to a deep dive into that TBR stack to see what I had on tap. And this is one of the things I had, the prequel novella in her Brothers Sinister series (The entire rest of the series was the purchase of something new). And it was a lovely read.

As is obvious from my comments above the rating, I liked both Serena and Hugh very much. And I’m saying that even though Serena’s predicament isn’t one I usually have much interest in reading about. Because the story isn’t ABOUT her pregnancy. It’s about her taking her future in her own hands and standing up for her own self in a society that expects her to do neither.

And I loved her internal voice, that she’s standing up NOW because she didn’t stand up then. She gave up her own voice once and it cost her dearly. She refuses to do it again – no matter what follows.

I found the relationship between her and her sister Freddy fascinating on multiple levels, and not just because Freddy clearly has agoraphobia. The way that the sisters love each other, support each other and have absolutely no understanding of each other all at the same time feels so real. I identify with Serena’s position completely while still being able to see where Freddy is coming from – even knowing that she would drive me bonkers too.

Hugh’s aspirations and his work ethic make him a different kind of hero for a story set in England in the immediate post-Regency period. The only member of the aristocracy we really see is Hugh’s employer, who is essentially the rotter that kicks off the whole story. He doesn’t get nearly as much as he deserves. What I loved about the story is that, at least in Hugh’s internal voice, the glitter of the Regency is exposed for the sham it was – or at least the sham the “nobility” were.

The romance between Serena and Hugh is an enemies into lovers romance that sparkles with wit and banter. They fall in love by talking to each other with both of their keen intellects on display at every turn.

I also loved the way that Hugh helped Serena get past her trauma. The sensitivity of that scene reminded me very much – and very favorably – of a similar occurrence in Lady Abigail’s Perfect Match.

The end of The Governess Affair is a teaser for the first complete novel in the Brothers Sinister series, The Duchess War. And at the end of my reading of The Governess Affair, while I decry the reason I found myself hunting this book up, I’m glad that I finally did.