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REVIEW: Unclaimed by Courtney Milan

Dear Ms. Milan:

Toward the end of the review it is going to sound like I didn’t like this book but that would be the wrong impression. I did like this book.  I liked it but in a lot of ways I found Mark, like his older brother Ash, to be almost saintly in his capacity for understanding and forgiveness which leaves me wondering if the only way mortal and flawed women can be loved is in the hands of the most perfect of men and how the Turner boys turned out this way when their father was a monster.

Unclaimed	Courtney MilanThe hero is Mark, the youngest of the Turner brothers. You noted at the outset that you wanted to write a story about a rock story.  Mark is the embodiment of a Victorian rockstar by virtue of a book he wrote on male chastity.  He was even knighted for his efforts.  For some reason, his slim volume about how men should restrain their desires to avoid ruining women has caught fire amongst the males in society.  Companion pamphlets are being written. A club has been formed.  There are secret handshakes.  Codes of honor. Vows of celibacy.  None of which have anything to do with the original volume Mark wrote but because of his fame, Mark is being considered for a government position that no one cares to have except one George Weston.  Weston puts out the call for someone to seduce Mark, ruin his reputation, and put him out of the running for the government position.

Tired of the fame, Mark travels to Shepton Mallet, a village of his youth to find some peace.  Instead he finds Jessica Farleigh.

Jessica Farleigh, a courtesan, takes Weston up on the offer to ruin Mark.  (It’s such delicious irony that this book features a female out to use sex to ruin a man).  By seducing Mark, Jessica will free herself from the sex trade and be able to retire to the country.  Jessica has been ill used by men, the extent of her mistreatment not really unveiled until the end. She believes Mark will be easy to seduce and is flummoxed when he is not. Jessica’s deception is easy to swallow primarily because of two things: 1) she is desperate and 2) Mark does not care one whit if he is ruined. He wants to be ruined or seduced, but only by the right woman.   Jessica’s initial forays at seduction are met with Mark’s disappointment.  He initially believes that Jessica is the right woman for him but her practiced wiles are so easy for him to see through that he is entirely put out.

It was easy to set aside his arousal, after all. He was actually rather disappointed.

Mrs. Farleigh made herself sound quite stupid— as if she were the sort of forgetful female who reg- ularly traipsed about outdoors in the wet. Some men of Mark’s acquaintance might have believed the act. After all, they believed all women were stupid.

Not Mark. And most definitely not this woman. If he had to guess, he would have said that she chose every item of apparel with the same care a clockmaker employed when selecting springs.

While Mark is chaste, he is no innocent. Jessica, on the other hand, is more innocent in heart and spirit even if she is chaste because she’s not had the freedom to love or to hate. It’s all had to be suppressed for the furtherance of her own survival. There is a scene in the book in which Jessica admits to being a good shot because she had to learn to shoot badly with precision else the man she was with would sulk and be unbearable if she beat him. And the one time that Jessica took pleasure for herself, she was punished. No, banished. And left to fend for herself.

It’s easy to see how one whose whole life has been to walk carefully, step carefully because of men would have hatred toward them and to think less of them.  When Mark treats her with respect and demands respect in return, Jessica barely knows how to respond.  She is so used to shaping herself to meet the desires of someone else, she is finding it difficult to be herself.  Her seduction of Mark begins from a place of survival but dislike but as she spends more time with Mark she finds that he is seducing her in an entirely different fashion and she is beset by emotions of dislike for herself, frustration toward Mark, and wonderment of her growing desire. In some ways, Jessica is written as a character without sharp edges. Despite her time as a courtesan and her dislike of her trade, she isn’t hardened but rather sweet. While her viewpoint is cynical, she holds little animosity toward the townspeople who shun her. Both Jessica and Mark are portrayed as fairly understanding people, or at least perspicacious. They seem to intuit the foibles of others readily.

Since writing the book, Mark has lived in a state of frustration.  He believes that no one has actually read his book because it premised on the idea that men are in control of their own desires and no woman, no matter how beautiful, lively, or interesting, is leading a man to his downfall:

“There are no unchaste women, or profligate men.” He set his hands on the podium. “There are no saints. None of you men want to hear me say that. After all, if it’s not a woman who’s led you astray, you’ve gone down the wrong path all on your own. If I am just an ordinary man, it means that chastity is attainable for everyone. It means that you are all responsible for your own mistakes, that you must own up to the wrong you have done without laying the blame on anyone else’s doorstep. It means you can never hold a woman scapegoat for your shortcomings again, not even if she is pretty and lively and intelligent.”

No matter how many times he excoriates people, they simply hold him in higher regard and the book uses this for great comedic effect.

Jessica, on the other hand, is viewed as a wicked woman.  Her clothes are a little too loud. Her dresses not modest enough.  Her mannerisms too engrossing to be those of a true lady.  The men secretly fear the feelings she stirs in them and thus she is deemed immoral.  The women overtly fear the feelings she stirs in their men and thus she is a harlot.  The lessons of Sir Mark are for men and women alike: that they must be responsible for their own desires, lusts, and attractions.

This is a powerful message.  But in some ways, I wondered that Mark had to be the vehicle for this message.  In this period, perhaps, only a privileged male could have given voice to this scandalous proposition and be heard.  But Jessica (as Margaret in the previous book) appears to be redeemed through the belief by Mark that she is a person of worth.  She claims her redemption in the end through sacrifice.

Sir Mark is a little too perfect for me.  He waits to marry because he wants to find someone to whom he wants to be faithful, not just to whom he can be faithful.   He understands the plight of women, particularly that of Jessica nearly better than she understands it.   What has made the Turner men so understanding? So great a champion for the cause of women?  The Turners shared a terrible mother. He was on his own for sometime with only his brother Smite for support.  I appreciated it when Mark lost his temper, when he was hurt, but felt he appeared too good to be true. Of course, it could be said that Mark failed the basic precepts of his own book on male chastity – not to be chaste, of course, but to understand that women in his time were placed in untenuous positions and that they did not have the luxury of acting in a manner which Mark had wanted from Jessica.

I enjoyed every page in this book. I think that this book really celebrates womanhood. It’s a book that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend but because of the brilliance of the writing, I wanted to see more.  I loved Mark and Jessica but I felt there simply wasn’t enough challenge in the story to Mark’s character or explanation for how that character was shaped.  B

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She 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

15 Comments

  1. Keishon
    Sep 26, 2011 @ 11:13:25

    So not enough angst eh? Good review.

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  2. Amy
    Sep 26, 2011 @ 12:01:23

    sounds interesting.

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  3. Brian
    Sep 26, 2011 @ 12:39:13

    I just read the first book in this series, Unveiled, after reading the Unlocked novella. I liked them both so will definately be picking this one up.

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  4. Lynette
    Sep 26, 2011 @ 13:19:37

    I am reading this now (nearly halfway through I think), but had to put it down because Jessica just annoyed me too much. The deception of it all bothered me. I didn’t care enough about her reasons for doing what she’s doing. I didn’t feel her desperation enough that she had no other choice but to lie.

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  5. Emily
    Sep 26, 2011 @ 14:06:04

    I don’t remember the Turner father being abusive in Unveiled. It was the pious mother who beat Ash. So they had two abusive parents? Anyway it would seem to me like Mark has more to forgive than Ash who really had not much to forgive.Is there no review for Unveiled?

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  6. Tralalah
    Sep 26, 2011 @ 17:41:54

    I don’t recall the father being that integral to the story. I think he cheated on the mother and died which is what drove her insane. The mother is a larger influence in my opinion. I love this series and I think the writing is exceptional. I can’t wait for Smite’s story. Ms. Milan is on my autobuy list and find myself reading them repeatedly. I would give it a B+/A-

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  7. Jane
    Sep 26, 2011 @ 17:43:25

    @Emily Yes, it was the mother that was insane. I don’t know why I put the father down. It’s been that way in my mind for some time now but I’m not sure how I created that fiction! Will correct.

    Robin did a review of Unveiled. Unfortunately we didn’t have it tagged appropriately.

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  8. Jane
    Sep 26, 2011 @ 17:44:40

    @Lynette I think she was desperate because she didn’t want to have sex for money anymore. This one deal could mean she could retire from that life. I think that’s a pretty desperate position. But deceiving the other party is always a tough sell. It’s not a trope I ordinarily like. In some ways, the dynamic of Unclaimed is similar to that of Unveiled.

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  9. Lynette
    Sep 26, 2011 @ 18:15:26

    @Jane:

    I see your point, but I still have a problem buying into that. Admittedly, it may come from my bias with deception troupes where the entire plot is based on that deception and it’s not cleared up early on or once the person doing the lying realizes that they are really going to hurt someone.

    What bothered me is that she didn’t seem to think to turn to other options before she decided to become a liar and use Mark for selfish reasons. I would have had more respect for Jessica and not been so quick to put the book down if I saw that she went through some type of thought process to think of what some other options she might have had, especially after she met Mark and realized he was not the man she assumed him to be.

    Also this is the first full length novel of CM that I read or am reading. I read one of her novella’s that I loved (her first, I haven’t read the second one yet but I have it). So, knowing me and my reading tastes if the other two full length novels are full of the hero/heroine lying to one another throughout the book, they probably wouldn’t work for me personally.

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  10. Jane
    Sep 26, 2011 @ 21:22:08

    @Lynette I am not a fan of the deception trope myself but because Mark (and Ash in the first book) really didn’t care that they were being deceived, I was able to push that issue aside, but I understand where you are coming from.

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  11. meoskop
    Sep 26, 2011 @ 21:24:32

    What has made the Turner men so understanding? So great a champion for the cause of women?

    You should meet my brother. No, really. Our mom is a nightmare, our father was worse, and he is a lot like Mark although he has not led a perfectly chaste life.

    Sometimes we rebel against our parents by becoming what we see they are not – Mark had the example of his mother’s bizarrely conceived social concern and his sister’s death. Between the two, his empathy for social causes and women rang very true for me.

    Now why he steps foot in the family home? Can’t help you.

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  12. Jane
    Sep 26, 2011 @ 21:27:29

    @meoskop I would have liked to have “seen” that in the book. I don’t have the benefit of your brother or your experience and would have liked to have seen some of how his character was formed. Maybe it was there and I just missed it.

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  13. meoskop
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 00:50:35

    @Jane That’s totally valid, absolutely. I think the reason I didn’t miss it in the book is that I have it in my life. So I took that experience to both of them, where the family home thing was a problem for me because of the same experience.

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  14. Rach
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 09:57:50

    Hi Jane! Great blog post on “Unclaimed.” I just finished it this morning. I liked it but not as well as her other books. She’s an amazing author and I would have liked to have seen a little more romance in this one.

    I wrote a review of “Unclaimed” this morning for my blog but it won’t post until October 16th. I posted a link to this post on my post as a great review for “Unclaimed.” Thanks :)
    http://missourireadings.blogspot.com/

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  15. Kim
    Oct 14, 2011 @ 11:32:42

    I just finished Unclaimed and while Courtney Milan is a terrific writer, I felt this book missed the mark somewhat. No one has mentioned Jessica’s age when she fell from grace. I just didn’t believe that a 14 year old vicar’s daughter would be alone with a man, let alone what occured. It would have been more believable if she were slightly older. Maybe I’m looking at it through today’s lense, but 14 years old is still a child.

    Another problem that I had was with the slightly modern tone of the book. For me, the novel was about female empowerment. I felt that by choosing to stay with Mark, Jessica took control of her life. It felt inauthentic to then have Jessica participate in a duel. Perhaps there are cases where this truly happened, but it seemed a step too far in Jessica’s attempt to solve her situation.

    I’d agree with the grade. I liked the characters, but specific plot points obviated my overall enjoyment.

    ReplyReply

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