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REVIEW: The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan

Dear Ms. Milan:

This book in the hands of a lesser author would have been a wallbanger and I might have quit halfway in. I’m glad I stuck with the book however because some very interesting things were being done in the story and while I didn’t fully embrace different aspects, I still thought this was a very compelling read.

The Heiress Effect Courtney Milan
Jane Fairfield has a boatload of money but she does not want to marry until her sister is of majority. Until that time her sister is under the guardianship of their uncle who, in his ignorance, inflicts terrible experiments on her sister to treat her sister’s seizure ailments.

To make herself undesirable despite her huge fortune, Jane has made it her business to dress awfully and to speak in an artless insulting manner. Jane is actually a little mean in her interactions with others always assuming men are there to court her for her money. For instance when she first meets Oliver, she treats him as if he is no better than a foot man and called him ordinary and insults him repeatedly. Oliver is upset at first but then sees through her façade.

“I beg your pardon.” He found himself standing just a little taller, looking at her with a hint of frost in his expression.

“Oh, no need to beg my anything,” she said with a smile. “You can’t help your looks, I’m sure. I would never hold them against you.” She nodded at him, as graciously as a queen, as if she were doing him a tremendous favor. And then she frowned. “I’m so sorry, but would you repeat your name again?”

Oliver gave her his stiffest bow. “Mr. Oliver Marshall. At your service.” Don’t take that literally, he almost added.

Her eyes widened. “Oliver. Were you named, perchance, after Oliver Cromwell?”

Jane’s behavior has made her a target of a powerful Marquess who agrees to help Oliver’s political ambitions if Oliver will humiliate Jane. Oliver is a bastard and he has suffered his own slights throughout his life. His goal is to achieve power in the form of being a Prime Minister so that he can step on the necks of those who have wronged him. Oliver’s ambition for power is not matched quite by his actions. He is good at reading people but he lacks problem-solving abilities. He has no solution for the conundrum that he is in. He likes Jane and does not want to hurt her and yet he also desires power.

Oliver as is far from a typical romance hero as you can get almost to the point where he is no hero at all. He is driven too much by his own ambition and fear that I often wondered if he was the equal of the magnificent Jane. Throughout the story, when heroism is called for, Oliver acts small. Even the nephew of the Marquess acts with more courage than Oliver. This is Oliver’s redemptive arc, though. He must learn to find his courage and overcome his own ambitions in order to be able to find his HEA with Jane.

Without Jane, the story would not have worked at all. She is smart, witty, and capable. If Oliver ever does achieve any success it will be due to Jane’s actions. But he is not her equal. Whenever there was a time for Jane to act big, she met the challenge. When she was faced with a conundrum that called for her to sacrifice her principles or forge a better path, she figured out a way to forge the better path. Except in one major instance. If Jane had so much disposable income, why did she not just carry off her sister and travel abroad until the sister became of majority? That seemed to be a much easier task than insulting people and dressing horribly.

There is a sweet secondary romance but it proceeded too quick for my taste. Once I accepted that the couple were going to be in love, everything that happened after was marvelous.

While I believed that Jane loved Oliver and that she wanted him, I wasn’t necessarily convinced that he deserved her and that she couldn’t have done far better. I purchased this book on my own even though it was available via NetGalley for free. I felt like I should appreciate this story more than I did. B-

Best regards


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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Janine
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 11:18:55

    I have a review of The Heiress Effect in the back end that will probably run sometime in the next couple of weeks, so I probably shouldn’t say too much but I liked this one better than you did; more on why when my review posts. I had more nitpicks than you did too but I’ll save those for my review as well.

    I thought the central theme of the book was finding the courage to be true to yourself and that this was the core of Oliver’s conflict. While the book began with Oliver contemplating sacrificing Jane for the greater good and to forward his own ambition, in the end it was really about Oliver sacrificing himself and his happiness with Jane to fit in and not make waves (partly in order to forward his ambition, but there was a deeper reason as well).

    “To thine own self be true” is a theme I love but I completely agree that Oliver wasn’t as heroic as Jane. I needed a bigger sacrifice, grand gesture or other balancing of the scales by Oliver at the end of the book because of that. I adored Jane and I wanted Oliver to work harder to win her.

  2. Jane
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 11:26:48

    Except Oliver makes no sacrifice and still gets everything he seeks. He gets the vote, the recognition, and all because Jane makes it so not because he uses his wits, brains, or courage to effectuate those results. He is fairly passive, wandering around the streets, Cambridge, and dining parties.

    I think the scene with Free is most telling. He goes to “save” her but with no plan and ends up watching from the sidelines. He is still on the sidelines in the epilogue.

    Jane is a really remarkable character and I loved her. She deserved better than Oliver.

  3. Meri
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 11:33:48

    The Heiress Effect was a B- for me as well, though not for the same reasons. My main problem with Oliver was that I felt his dilemma and arc were too similar to those of his father Hugo in The Governess Affair, and it worked better for me in a shorter story. And speaking of length, I felt that both Oliver and Jane were intelligent and mature enough to work out their differences in the latter part of the novel – especially as it seemed obvious that someone who pulled off the sort of deception Jane did would be able to use her considerable intelligence and abilities to succeed in other areas, without compromising herself and her integrity.

    That said, there was a lot to like here: Jane was indeed fantastic and her relationship with her sister was wonderful; many of the the secondary characters were compelling and in some cases unusual, while the sequel baiting was kept to a minimum; and as usual, Milan explores interesting issues, often in unexpected ways. I enjoyed it more than The Duchess War, but I wish I could have liked it more than I did.

  4. Janine
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 11:37:50

    @Jane: SPOILERS I didn’t feel as negative toward Oliver — he had a good reason for being the way he was, and he dropped everything to help Jane out and foiled the guy who tried to kidnap her, at a time when it would have forwarded his ambitions to stay in London.

    And I thought it was a gesture to wear the fuschine vest on the street — but I wanted something bigger, like, at the very least, wearing the fuschine vest to the most important social function in London, where a crowd of people including all the politicians could see him wearing it.

    And really I think I wanted something bigger than that even — like quitting politics altogether, because it’s a profession where one constantly has to compromise, think about public image, and sacrifice individuals for the greater good (like soldiers in wars). END OF SPOILERS.

    With that said, I still liked Oliver. He wasn’t perfect but he had a good heart. I like flawed characters and I found it interesting to read about someone like him. I appreciated that he wasn’t an aristocrat or a billionaire.

    It’s just that if this is a redemption story, then the redemption part of the story needed to be stronger. The things I most loved about the book had to do with Jane and with the side characters, and with other factors as well.

  5. Malin
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 11:39:52

    A very good review, that pretty much vocalizes exactly my feelings about the book. You really shouldn’t feel that the heroine could have done better at the end of a book, and despite Oliver’s grovelling, I was left with the feeling that he didn’t deserve her.

  6. Karenmc
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 11:58:30

    I was struck by how much Jane, her sister, and Oliver’s sister were engaged in fashioning their own futures, not passively waiting for things to just happen to them. Oliver takes a long time to get his game on, while the women forge ahead.

  7. Angie
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 12:20:07

    If Jane had so much disposable income, why did she not just carry off her sister and travel abroad until the sister became of majority?

    I haven’t read the book and can’t even tell when it was set, but about the above, my first thought was that she possibly couldn’t have gotten a passport. I know we generally ignore them in historical romances, but they did exist exist. And I remember reading somewhere that until the… very late 19th century or maybe early 20th, it was customary for passports to be issued directly only to men. If a woman had to travel, she did so on her father’s or husband’s passport (whichever man was presumed by society to be responsible for her [cough]) with the presumption that she’d be travelling with him. Minor children were also listed on their father’s passport.

    There might well have been provision for exceptions on a case-by-case basis, but if Jane wanted to get her sister out of the country, she’d have had to explain to some authority why she and her sister were travelling without a man — and in particular, why her sister was travelling without her legal guardian — and that probably would’ve hashed the whole scheme.

    No idea whether Ms. Milan was thinking of this, though. :)


  8. Sunita
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 13:44:16

    @Angie: The book is set in 1867. While there are records of passports being issued during this time, they weren’t required for departure or arrival in Britain, the US, France, and many other countries. If she could get her hands on her money, Jane should have been able to procure tickets for ships to any number of places. And while their names would have been on the passenger manifest, I’m not sure they were required by law to give their real names.

    Indeed, given the vast numbers of Europeans emigrating and immigrating in the second half of the 19th century, not to mention the ongoing wars and lesser conflicts on the European continent, I would think someone as resourceful as Jane could have found a way to lose herself and Emily for 18 months. But that would have been a different book. ;)

  9. Tinley
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 14:10:30

    I agree with much of your review. I thought the first 1/8 of the book was fun and interesting. I liked the dialogue. But the whole middle of the book just lagged and lagged for me. I did not understand why the events where happening the way they did, or more importantly, why I should care. It was a real chore to get to the end of this one. Which made me sad because I really liked this author’s first book. Now I’m not sure if I want to read about Sebastian or if I’ll just be left feeling disappointed.

  10. Mary Beth
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 17:14:11

    I loved this book. I have come to the conclusion that, for me, Courtney Milan cannot write a bad book. Jane was just the best character – courageous, outrageous, loyal, intelligent and, in regard to her sister, brave. Oliver was an interesting character as well. I was especially moved by the lessons he learned from his aunt.

  11. Patricia
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 12:27:06

    I stayed up late to finish reading this book last night, and I’m still reveling in good book glow. Apparently I liked it more than you did. I would agree that Jane was the more dominant and decisive person in their relationship, almost from the very beginning, but I’m totally okay with that. Actually, I found it refreshing. I do get so tired of heroes being the possessive, territorial ones. I loved when Jane informed Oliver that she and Bradenton were squabbling over him rather than the men competing over her, as they believed they were doing.

    I would have liked to directly see more of Oliver’s politicking rather than hearing about it secondhand. Other than that, I have few complaints.

  12. Maili
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 14:01:34


    And while their names would have been on the passenger manifest, I’m not sure they were required by law to give their real names.

    I agree. At least they weren’t until 1914. Before then: when a passage is purchased from a dock office or an agency, a clerk writes down a name, as given by whomever is purchasing the passage, on a ‘ticket’. The clerk duplicates the name on a passenger manifest and a log. From thereon, the passenger could use the travelling papers as proof of identity.

    That was one way of adopting a new name when travelling and when gathered enough travelling papers, returning to home country when one can settle in with the new name. The British government realised this was becoming a serious problem, especially after the murderer Dr. Crippen was, in 1910, caught and arrested on a ship where he and his lady friend had been travelling under false names. They wouldn’t have caught him if he hadn’t seen himself fit to travel first class. A passport–with real names, photos and all–became a legal requirement roughly four years later. FWIW, anyway.

    All that said, I have no problem imagining Jane not thinking of taking a passage out of the country, even though it was fashionable for unmarried women to travel the world, alone or with another woman, during her time.

  13. Christina
    Jul 23, 2013 @ 03:53:26

    It’s funny how one of the things I absolutely loved about the book is being pointed out as a weakness. I hate the big publicly redemptive gesture we often see when the hero has been an idiot. The idea that some form of public humiliation or groveling makes everything OK? I hate it. Sometimes it seems like these gestures stand not as a signal of change, but in stead of a real commitment to change.

    Oliver does not make a grand gesture. He makes a small one. On the other hand I was absolutely convinced that he not only saw the need to change, but was actively working towards changing. Grand gestures are not sustainable, but small outward signals of a large inner change are.

    So yes, this is not the majority opinion, but Oliver really worked for me.

  14. Anna Cowan
    Jul 25, 2013 @ 02:55:22

    Oliver completely worked for me, too. I loved his journey from single-minded control of his life to realising he didn’t actually know what he wanted, or control nearly as much as he thought he did. It felt very human, and touched me.

    Milan’s feminism is pretty overt, but I did enjoy the way Oliver’s assumptions about his role in the lives of “his women” weren’t actually based in reality, and he was challenged to find a real relationship to them.

    Also, I think Free and Freddy’s relationship is my favourite in any romance, ever. So moving, so wonderful!

  15. Willaful’s Best of 2013
    Dec 24, 2013 @ 08:02:26

    […] 7) The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan. Reviewed by Janine and Jane. […]

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