REVIEW: Unlocked by Courtney Milan
Dear Ms. Milan:
I’ve been chomping at the bit to talk about this book with other readers. I’ve felt, in the past, that your works were smart and thoughtful but sometimes lacking in emotional engagement. I particularly struggled to connect with Ned Carhart in Trial by Desire. But Unlocked packs an emotional punch from the very opening of the story. My throat was tight and tears pricked the back of my eyes for most of the story.
Lady Elaine Warren entered her first season, flush with excitement and brimming with vitality. Evan Carlton, the young Earl of Westfield, was drawn to this vitality. Yearned to feel it. But because he was callous and immature, the popular Evan Carlton began to poke at Elaine, making fun of her at nearly every party until she became the butt of every joke in the season, until the vitality of Lady Elaine’s spirit was damped out.
When last he’d been here, he would have been the center of that crowd. His jokes had been the funniest—or at least, they had made everyone laugh the loudest. He’d been the golden boy—handsome and popular and liked by everyone.
Almost everyone. Evan shook his head. He had utterly hated himself.
Evan, recognizing his wrongdoing but afraid of his consequences and unsure of how to react, flees England and doesn’t return for 10 years until his father passes away and Evan is required to come home and take up the stewardship of the family affairs. Upon his re-entrance into society, Evan is a changed man but society has not changed with him. Instead, it is the same people, with the same prejudices, making the same jokes that he had started 10 years ago, including the one about Lady Elaine.
He kept his voice calm. “I suppose she isn’t Lady Elaine any longer. Who did she end up marrying?”
“Really. Who would wed a girl who laughs like a horse?”
He looked at his cousin. “Do be serious. We’re not youths any longer.” Even from this distance, Evan could see the ripe swell of her bosom. When she had come out at seventeen, she had attracted attention, her body mature beyond her age. He had noticed. Often.
She’d been entirely unlike all the other debutantes: not just in body, but with that laugh, that long, loud, vital laugh. It had made him think that she held nothing back, that life was ahead of her and she planned to enjoy it. Her laugh had always put him in mind of activities that were decidedly improper.
Evan’s feelings of longing toward Lady Elaine haven’t changed and he attempts to set right the wrongs he did to Lady Elaine. The more time he spends with her, the more he attempts to make reparations, the deeper in love he falls even knowing that he does not deserve Lady Elaine’s affections and that he may never win her heart.
Unmarried and a wallflower, Lady Elaine looks at Evan Carlton defiantly refusing to allow him to diminish her one iota. She has spent the last 10 years trying to survive society and protecting her mother, a brilliant thinker in a time when brilliance in women is deemed nothing short of madness.
This story works so well, particularly in the short format, because we know immediately that Evan is regretful. Second, Lady Elaine was hurt but she doesn’t wallow in her pain. It’s marked her, of course, but she shows great courage in coming to party after party. Third, there is no easy forgiveness for Evan. He really has to work at earning Lady Elaine’s trust, respect, and ultimately, love. And finally, Elaine is human. She lashes out when she is hurt even when she tries to put on a brave face. She isn’t perfect nor is Evan and therefore all the more relatable.
This story is like an anthem for every girl who has ever been mocked, criticized or made fun of. Lady Elaine’s pain, her courage, and her ultimate triumph is painful and poignant. And Evan is just as sympathetic even though he was the instigator of a deep wrong against Elaine.
This is a self published book and at 99c I felt like I was robbing the convenience store. I felt like I was reading a gift. A