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REVIEW: Unraveled by Courtney Milan

Dear Ms. Milan:

Thank you for sending me “Unraveled” for review. I have enjoyed (but been somewhat critical) of your past works but your novella, “Unlocked,” was one of my best reads of 2011. Smite’s book was hotly anticipated. Part of the problem I had with “Unraveled” was the result of my own expectations and anticipation. I had created my own vision of Smite prior to “Unraveled” through my glimpses of him in “Unclaimed” and “Unveiled.” Smite, to me, was a closed off man who held rigid beliefs and allowed only his younger brother any kind of intimacy, either physical or emotional.

Unraveled by Courtney MilanSmite in “Unraveled” met those expectations up until he began to interact with the heroine, Miranda, in chapter 2. From there I felt like I was taking a number of unsupported emotional leaps to get Miranda and Smite together, to get them both past their dark moments, and then into their HEA. I don’t know whether I would have bought into these emotional movements more if I hadn’t had preconceived notions about Smite.

Miranda is wig maker who lives in the Temple Parish, a slum protected by an unknown person named the Patron. If you do favors for the Patron, the Patron provides you with protection. This allows Miranda to live, work, and walk unmolested in this very bad part of town. Miranda is an educated young woman. Her father was the owner of a theater troupe, her mother an actress. Her family fell on hard times when Miranda’s mother died. Bereft of his soul mate, her father goes into decline and the theatre troupe falls apart and the source of the family income dissipates entirely. Miranda has made a meager life for herself and a young boy she adopted from the disbanded troupe. She tries to keep Robbie away from the more unsavory elements in the Temple Parish but as he advances in age (12) it becomes increasingly difficult.

As part of her deal with the Patron, Miranda uses her experience in the theatre to create different personas and she uses those personas to get disadvantaged youth out of trouble with the magistrates. Unfortunately, one of those magistrates is Smite and he recognizes her through her paint, her wigs, her clothes as someone who had appeared before him previously in a different incarnation. Smite takes his job seriously to treat the poor and the rich, the pretty and the misshapen, all with the same measure of justice unlike the other magistrates who either view justice as something to be sold or are too lazy to work at finding the truth. He knows that she is about to perjure herself and prevents her from doing it. He also seeks her out to impress upon her that she must stop or he will enforce justice upon her.

But there is something about Miranda that Smite finds compelling. So compelling that within a short time after meeting her, Smite offers to make her his mistress for a period of thirty days. Smite explains that he will set a time limit because he only allows himself a rationed amount of sentimentality.

Despite the fact that she is a virgin and despite that she slapped Robbie across the face just a few pages back for accusing her of selling herself to Smite, Miranda is delighted by Smite’s offer and moves into his newly purchased house forthwith.

I’m baffled. Why didn’t she sell herself before? Why was she so angry at the suggestion of selling herself but then readily accepts Smite’s offer? At one point, Miranda is described as “happier when your relationships can be framed in terms of commerce.  You never accept help from anyone.”  If that is true, I didn’t understand why Miranda didn’t choose the courtesan/mistress option previously. Was it simply not an option for her?

And what is it about Miranda, this person who does not have the same strict interpretation of the law, that attracts Smite to the point that he acts out of character?  Later I understand that Miranda moves Smite in ways he didn’t expect because she doesn’t try to fix him; because she doesn’t see him as flawed or broken or something to be changed.

“My brother. Mark.” He twined his hand with hers. “There is no former mistress, Miranda Darling. There have been affairs, mind, but they never lasted long. Usually, she decides I’m stoic and cold only because I have been unlucky in love. She thinks she’ll be the one to melt through my defenses. She thinks that she can fix everything that is wrong with me by simply weeping over me. It lasts until she realizes I won’t spend the night, she can’t touch my face, and I despise women who weep for no reason. I have no tolerance for maudlin affection, and less for women who want to fix me.”

“Fix you?” Miranda said. “Why would anyone need to fix you? You’re not broken.”

“That’s precisely what I’ve always said.” He slid down to lie next to her. “Oddly, few people ever believe me.”

“I know what broken is,” Miranda said. “My father was broken, after my mother died. He just stopped working. He wouldn’t sleep. Wouldn’t eat. Wouldn’t even get out of bed. He just lay there and cried.”

“Good heavens. How long did it last?”

“Three years.”

“Three…three years.” He shifted to face her. “Three years.”

“I told you I know what broken is. That is broken—staring at the wall and weeping, while creditors hammer on the door and your troupe slowly slips away, stealing the best costumes in lieu of wages. When your friends leave you and you still cannot move, and nothing your daughter says can break you out of the spell. No man is broken because bad things happen to him. He’s broken because he doesn’t keep going after those things happen. When you told me about your mother, and how it made you resolve to be the person you are… What I thought was, ‘Yes, please, I’ll take him.’ Because you didn’t break.”

There was a pause. He propped himself up on one elbow and then picked up the watch he’d left on the bedside table.

“Would you know,” he said, his tone a bit more businesslike, “this conversation has officially exceeded my daily quota for mawkish sentimentality. That’s it, then.”

“Quota?” she said. “What are you talking about?”

“My sentimentality quota. There’s a limit as to how much sentiment I will tolerate in a day. I’ve just reached it.”

“It’s not—” she glanced at the watch in his hands “—not yet three in the morning. And this is…a special occasion.”

“Nevertheless, we’re done. As much as my pride loves to be puffed up, I’d appreciate it if you could refrain from further compliments. And definitely no protestations of love—that would put me off for a good long while.”

There were portions of the book I loved, including the dialogue exchanges between Smite and Miranda.  Yet, I didn’t understand why Smite was suddenly telling Miranda all his secrets.  Or maybe his past, his night terrors, his fears, weren’t secrets.  They seemed secrets in previous books but maybe they were just secrets in previous books to build suspense for this book?  The speed at which Miranda and Smite fell in love; the speed at which Smite unbent; the speed at which Miranda fell into Smite’s bed, all happened too fast for me.   I felt like I understood where you wanted to go in your book such as awaken a character to how the rigidity of one position could be harmful but I never felt convinced once I got there.  The movements from emotional transition to emotional transition were missing.

I also was taken aback by the numerosity of love scenes.  For a great portion of the middle part of the book I felt like it was one love scene after another and while it was well done, I wasn’t sure why the movement of the book took place in bed for large swaths.

I did like the contrast between the justice handed out by the Patron and that by Smite, that justice done in secret and in the dark was unstable and uncertain and didn’t actually achieve the goals it sought. Justice shouldn’t make someone like Miranda afraid.  That part of the book was well conceived from beginning to end.   The prose is lovely in the book. I loved the dialogue.  I thought that the questioning of the concept of justice and who administers it was well done.  It was the romance that felt rushed. C+

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

27 Comments

  1. Molly O'Keefe
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 13:42:42

    I’m reading this now (not far past chapter 3) and so far I am just utterly amazed by Milan. I really am. She just keeps getting better for me, each book more exciting and well-written than the last.

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  2. Kate Hewitt
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 13:47:22

    I’m in the middle of reading this book and am really enjoying it so far. I wonder though if the ideas about justice and mercy that Milan wanted to explore might have shortchanged the romance for some readers? Smite and Miranda do seem to come to a surprising level of intimacy quite quickly, but it does allow them to explore their reactions and feelings to that intimacy, which is very interesting to me.

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  3. Cris
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 14:05:14

    To me, Miranda made perfect sense. She was a virgin because she hadn’t met anyone she wanted to be with, but since she didn’t have the same moral objections to sex that the rest of the world did, when she met someone she wanted to be with, she went for it and – bonus! – he had cash. Plus, Robbie was being rude and crude, which was why he got smacked.

    And Smite had to share some things with her, like the no-face-touching rule, so she’d know what not to do. Then when he found her lacking in maudlin sympathy, he told her more. I figured that he didn’t talk to Ash like he did Miranda because he couldn’t open up without blowing up and expressing all sorts of emotional drama of the type he abhorred. I didn’t think him so much closed off as completely controlled. One does not open doors that one can not shut back again tightly (personal experience on that one).

    I loved this book. I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads and marked it as a favorite.

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  4. becca
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 14:05:37

    I agree that this was probably the weakest of the Un- books, but I still loved it. Ash’s story is still my favorite, probably because it presses some of my own buttons, but so far I’ve enjoyed every one of Courtney Milan’s books.

    btw, is it MI-lan, or mi-LAN?

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  5. may
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 14:37:37

    I wholeheartedly LOVED this book. For me, Smite is a mystery and secretive with his brothers and their ladies, we weren’t given much glimpse into his character because he didn’t want to share himself with them. Now in his book, we get a better picture of him. That he decided Miranda was someone who ‘gets’ him and he wants to share with worked for me.

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  6. Mandi
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 14:47:23

    I’m fuzzy on the details, but did Miranda accept Smite’s offer to be his mistress after Robbie was set up for his apprenticeship? So she didn’t have him at home to worry about? Or maybe I’m off track..it has been a bit since I read it.

    I feel like Smite didn’t “unbend” fast at all…I think at the very end of the book, he still has issues and isn’t “cured.” He learned there was someone out there who understood and accepted the way he is, and so he slowly took that jump into letting his guard down.

    I don’t know – this book just felt so romantic to me. I thought Smite and Miranda were such different characters (Smite vomits! Love that scene and when Miranda actually goes to Smite at the end for help…thank you smart heroine!) :)

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  7. Isobel Carr
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 14:54:07

    Love the job she did making this one fit into the cover branding done for the earlier books.

    @becca: mi-LAN is how I’ve heard her say it.

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  8. Patricia
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 14:56:52

    I read this book recently, and I really liked it. It wasn’t a perfect book but I would give it a B or B+. Things did move quickly, but that is hardly a unique occurance in romance novels. I was surprised that Miranda was a virgin but that wasn’t a deal killer for me, especially as she was knowledgable about sex rather than a naive waif. The thing that bothered me most was actually the Patron’s identity. It just didn’t seem realistic to me, though I don’t think I can detail my objections here without giving away too much. One thing I especially appreciated was the book’s look at Law and/vs. Justice. Overall, I thought it was a strong book with some thoughtful elements you don’t see very often in romance.

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  9. Katie
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 15:27:31

    IMHO the sub plot with the Patron detracted from the story, but it was still a very good book. Milan writes great dialogue and Smite was a very unique hero, nothing cookie cutter about him. The HEA felt real, he had changed enough to love her but he still had all his baggage.

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  10. Brian
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 15:49:24

    Definately a B for me, I really enjoyed this story.

    Note to the production folks at the big publishing houses, THIS is how your stuff should be done. A nice cover, not splattered with broken words and/or typos all over the place, nice section break markers and chapter headings, proper chapter marks in the Kindle version, a properly don TOC, a very well done package.

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  11. Ducky
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 16:01:07

    I really liked this one. It is my favorite of the series. I was grabbed right at the beginning with the court stuff. I love Smite. The heroine and her pragmatism made sense to me: she wanted to have sex with him and he had money – a win-win situation in her world.

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  12. Author on Vacation
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 16:01:34

    Disclaimer: I did not read J’s review. I don’t want to be “spoiled” or “tainted.”

    I scooped up “Unraveled” after reading the sample chapter. Since I haven’t read earlier books in the series my impressions will follow the work on its ability to stand alone.

    Good luck to C.M., I’ll be reviewing “Unraveled” at Goodreads.

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  13. Tracy
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 16:19:47

    I really liked Unlocked. That was my first Milan. When Unraveled came out at such a (relatively) low price-point, I grabbed it and read it (I haven’t read any of the other books she’s written, but after Unlocked, I was really interested in reading more of her work). Unlocked worked much better for me.

    Smite was one of the more unique characters I’ve read and his relationship with Miranda felt right to me. But I didn’t feel like I got sucked into the story like I did with Unlocked.

    Having not read the other books in the series (yet), I didn’t have the earlier introduction for Smite. I thought his progress was pretty in-character (but I’m not a terrific judge of those sorts of things).

    Overall, I enjoyed the book, but not as much as I was expecting to.

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  14. Ros
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 17:37:54

    @becca: I’ve always assumed it’s like the city.

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  15. BRose
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 18:14:05

    It always makes me cringe to see historical romance set in England, with the title spelt the American way!

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  16. JB Hunt
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 18:25:22

    I just finished UNRAVELED. I liked it but not as much as I did the other books in the series.

    I loved UNLOCKED and UNVEILED!

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  17. Kay
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 18:46:18

    I found this book hard to put down, in a good way, for some of the reasons Cris gave. Thinking back to the points the review brings up, I can see where they’re coming from, but I was convinced at the time! (And may I say how nice it was to see the duchess being duchess-y?)

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  18. Las
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 22:39:34

    I was so impressed that Miranda accepted Smite’s offer that I didn’t even care about her slapping Robbie earlier for suggesting that very thing. So often in historicals women refuse that kind of proposition no matter how bad they have it, which has always struck me as ridiculous. And I had no problems with the fact that she hadn’t sold herself before. What are the odds that she would have met a man willing to pay her that much? A man she’s attracted to and that she trusts?

    But then Milan ruined it by making her a virgin. I was actually thinking how great it was that she wasn’t a virgin and it wasn’t even going to be mentioned, and then came that surprise. Maybe I missed the clues, but I did not see that coming and it completely took me out of the story. Why was it so important for her to be virgin that her background was completely ignored?

    Add that to the facts that the Patron plot didn’t interest me at all, and I disliked how the scenes with Smite and his family unfolded, and Unraveled was just not a good read for me. The dialogue between Miranda and Smite was lovely, though.

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  19. swati
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 23:11:22

    I read this book as soon as it came out …. like on the same day! I love Milan and was so waiting for smite’s story ….

    …..And what a let down…..When i was talking to my sis, I couldn’t seem to express properly exactly what i felt was wrong. So thank you Jane, you summed up my feelings perfectly.

    I loved the prose, the dialogues but it just didn’t seem like Smite. At least not the Smite of the previous two books. He fell in love so damn fast and why was it that he was so vocal about his feelings, his past, his insecurities? What was so special about her that made him sing like a canary whenever they met.

    I loved what he was saying but based on what i thought of him, i didn’t think he should be saying it.
    The way Milan portrayed him in the first two installments, i couldn’t imagine him being so …… so talkative. I absolutely adore everything he said, but he came off more as ‘ash’ rather than ‘smite’. Ash was the one who wore his heart on his sleeve, smite was the more closed up one. It just didn’t seem right.

    Also, Smite was funny. A lot of what he said made me smile but the way the scenes were written, his demeanor , i could never understand was Smite genuinely witty or was he oblivious and said witty stuff without even realising it.

    On a separate note, i didn’t like the high handed way Miranda resolved richard and smite’s issue. I would have been irritated if i was in smite’s place. I didn’t really care much about Miranda. Nothing special about her . For me the best Milan’s heroine was Jenny. And i still think that POS is her best book

    Of the current series, i think Ash’s book was the best for me. He was a little too perfect but on the whole it was a very sweet book.

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  20. swati
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 23:20:36

    @Las:
    totally agree with you – the patron story was not that interesting. And this time the family interactions were nowhere as good as the other two books. Previously, i always liked when the brothers got together. And the ending, how convenient to have a rich duke as a brother to recruit more policeman. Patron problem solved.Too neat an ending.

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  21. Tolouse
    Dec 31, 2011 @ 08:57:44

    I, too, loved this book. Part of the reason for that is probably that the only other book by this author I have read is Unlocked.
    Since I didn’t have any idea who Smite was in previous books, I didn’t notice any inconsistencies. Smite made sense to me, he had to tell her stuff, because otherwise she wouldn’t know that she shouldn’t say, touch his face, or try to bring him near water.

    as a side note, I really like the way the book seems to be build around his name. In fact I liked this book so much, that I’m currently reading Ash’s book.

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  22. SonomaLass
    Dec 31, 2011 @ 12:56:01

    I liked this book a lot. I thought the Patron storyline helped with understanding Miranda’s virginity and her relationship with the legal system, and it allowed exploration of some very interesting class issues as regards the justice system. I admit, having saved this book for a time when I could savor it, I ended up inhaling it in one night. I found it a very worthwhile ending to this terrific series.

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  23. Sandy D.
    Dec 31, 2011 @ 20:48:53

    @Ros:

    Well, the small town in Michigan is pronounced MY-lun LOL.

    Reading Jane’s review, I can’t help but agree with her criticism – but I was totally swept away by the story, especially the characters and their dialogue, and all the issues (valid or not) just didn’t matter to me.

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  24. Teresa
    Jan 01, 2012 @ 15:06:20

    I like this book better than you did. I’m new to Milan but read a few of hers over the weekend. (Thank you library kindle loans!)

    One thing I really like about Milan is that the usual things which cause a big rift between the characters in novels are handled maturely by the heros. “I totally get why you did x because of a,b & c” without storming off in a huff.

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  25. Laela
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 08:37:27

    I loved this book. Courtney Milan just keeps getting better and better. I have really loved every single “UN” book, starting with the novella. Maybe the best novella I have ever read? Smite’s book did not disappoint!

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  26. Laela
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 08:38:34

    @Teresa: I agree with you! You can just see how a “typical” conflict would arise in any other book that would make you roll your eyes, but these characters take a better route.

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  27. Author on Vacation
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 00:26:00

    I gave the novel a “C-minus.” I thought the technical quality was very good, but I didn’t warm to either of the main characters. Neither of them sounded like genuine Victorian English people to me. Not their conversations or their thoughts and ideas. They sounded like modern-day, middle-class Americans more than anything else.

    The story was engaging, particularly the legal subplot.

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