REVIEW: Trial by Desire by Courtney MilanSaturday, January 29, 2011 1:00
Courtney Milan has written a highly enjoyable book that almost sold me on the Victorian era.
I dislike the Victorian era. It’s a personal prejudice, born of many things, but mainly the namby-pamby, hypocritical way they went about things. It contained many fine people and many great reforms, but it’s not for me. But Courtney Milan sold me on the era in this book. There are always exceptions. Well, nearly always.
I haven’t read the previous book, Proof of Seduction, but although characters from that book appear in this one, I didn’t feel that I needed to. It’s nice to read a book that is so well constructed. The earlier chapters have a series of hooks that keep you reading, eager to know what’s going to happen, and then, in the middle part, is the seduction bit, and the consummation. After that, the plot picks up again, and everything surges to a satisfying finish. There is very little to say about this book except that it’s a good, solid read, and thank the powers that be, for the most part, accurately researched, with vocabulary suitable to the period.
To a British reader, it’s obvious the book has been written by an American, but it’s only by little, everyday words. An American wouldn’t notice. Sigh, all right then, if you want examples: “trek” (a word that came into common use in Britain after the Boer War in 1898), “son of a bitch” (has never been a common British curse), “Corral” (in use, but not common, and far too reminiscent of the Wild West, so while not wrong, it leads the mind into the wrong avenues), “gotten” (I know, but five uses in the whole of Trollope’s oeuvre don’t make it common, and to the modern British reader, it screams “American”), “mother-loving” (I think the first time I became aware of that phrase was a Frank Zappa interview). As you can see, trivial and easily ignored. They didn’t bother me much.
There is a liberty taken with the trial part of the book, but Milan explains that in a note, and I completely agree with her. To spend the whole book in a trial, when the story is really about the coming together of a previously estranged husband and wife is completely excusable, and understandable. Good call on her part.
So many thanks to Courtney Milan and the care she took in research, and creating a realistic, believable background for her characters. At last. A historical writer I can enjoy!
While I can’t say the book engrossed me so that I couldn’t stop turning the pages, it provided something good to look forward to and settle down with. The book is written at a leisurely pace, so that was how I read it, and I’m glad I didn’t race forward.
The prose is precise, and the vocabulary pleasantly wide, without overtaxing the reader or using two words when one would do. In fact, for me, it was one of the best parts of the book. To read someone who knows how to use words properly and in the right order makes any book that bit better.
Kathleen is not a perfect heroine, but that is something I don’t like in a book. Perfection. Ick. She accepts her lot in life, even if she doesn’t always like it, and she strives to make the most of it. she cares for the estate, looks after her friends and doesn’t sulk. WTG, Kate.
Ned, the hero, abandons his wife to go to China. We don’t find out for sure until later in the book, although there are hints given throughout the text. This is the part of the book that I find most unsatisfactory, which is to say, not very much. There are a few contrivances, and one is Ned’s original reason for leaving for China, and his reluctance to engage in intimate relations with a woman who is, after all, his wife. I couldn’t see the point, even when the matter becomes clearer, except to lead the reader to wait for the big scene.
Which is fun, I have to say.
Ned has a problem that I sussed early on, because Milan gets the cure spot-on. Activity works for depression, because if it’s kept up, depression can be averted. Boredom is the friend of depression and can lead to terrible downers. Ned has discovered this and exhausts himself in extreme physical activity that exhausts him. WTG, Ned. Don’t be a victim, find what works for you and do it. I did like Ned, although his reasons are sometimes convoluted.
The sex isn’t of the turn-on kind, but is described well enough to stop me skipping, something I don’t do very often anyway, and it’s appropriate to the characters, except that I find Kate strangely immodest for a young, barely experienced Victorian lady. I wasn’t really engaged by their sex life, much more interested in the way they grew to know each other through the book, slowly coming to an understanding that ensures their happy ending. While I didn’t get the OMG lovers-to-friends moment, their love is of the lasting kind, and I could see these two being happy together by the time I closed the book.
I’d been putting off reading this book for some time, mainly because of the “Best thing since sliced bread” reviews I read when it was first issued. And the Victorian setting. Both highly personal reasons, but I’m really glad I finally brought myself to the sticking point, because I had a lovely read that took me through a couple of fraught situations in my personal life.
Milan’s style and the way she constructs her books reminds me of a writer who appears to have disappeared off the scene – Lydia Joyce. The great prose, the careful construction, and the choice of the Victorian era are all reminiscent of her style.
A goodie, and well worth your time.
She cannot forget the fire he ignited…
In the three years since her husband left her, Lady Kathleen Carhart has managed to forge a fulfilling life for herself. But when Ned Carhart unexpectedly returns, she finds her tranquility uprooted—and her deepest secrets threatened. Though she has no intention of falling for Ned’s charms, Kate can no longer deny the desire that still burns in her heart.
Or the promise of his love…
Ned is determined to regain his wife’s trust by using unbridled seduction. But just as Kate surrenders to Ned’s passion, her carefully guarded past threatens to destroy her. Now Kate must place her faith in the only man she’s ever loved, and the only one who has ever betrayed her…
Read an excerpt.