Summary- Minerva Lane is a shy and quiet girl who hates crowds and has a scarred face. Robert Blaisdell is a Duke who wants things no Duke should want. Both have secrets that could lead to scandal if they are uncovered. Minerva and Robert both peel back the mysteries of the other and are suddenly at the other’s mercy.
My rating- B
For the purpose of full disclosure I have to say that I was given an audio book copy of this novel by the author for an honest review.
Okay, now that that is out of the way I have quite a bit to say about this book.
I really liked the characters. Minerva and Robert were very deep. They were both very built up with in depth pasts which clearly made them who they are by the time of the novel. Both Minerva and Robert had a one or both of their parents betray them and that left them with lots of relationship issues.
I also liked the secondary characters. I am hoping that more is revealed about Minerva’s best friend in future books. She is a character that had some bad things happen and I wanted to know more about her.
I also really liked Robert’s relatives and would be glad to see them in future books.
Now, a few things I didn’t love about the book.
The first scene of the book is one that I felt had been done before. Robert is hiding in the library where no one can see him. Minerva comes into the room to hide from a suitor. Suitor says derogatory things about her. She and Robert notice each other and the book begins. When I first read that I was worried that this book would be a cookie cutter historical romance. It was not. But, I still didn’t love the very first scene.
Also, there was a bit too much sex in the book for me. I know that is very common in romances these days and it may have been perfect for another reader but especially the masturbation scenes I could have done without.
Finally, I really hated that Minerva and Robert each have to terribly betray the other. Like all romances they do get over it in the end and live happily ever after. And, to be fair, both characters felt that they had no choice but to betray the other. It just bothered me that two people who love each other could betray each other so deeply. I did like one of the last scenes in the book where Robert has revealed Minerva’s secret and has invited the newspaper men to ask her questions. It was probably my favorite scene from the book because I could just imagine Robert being all sweet and protective of his wife.
Overall, I think fans of historical romances will enjoy this book.
Interview with Courtney Milan:
Q: What made you want to write historical romances? What makes them appealing to you?
There are a lot of answers I could give to this question. Here’s one easy one. I like writing historical romances because I like writing about women struggling to be more, and there were SO many reasons why women were shoved into subordinate positions in historical times that it gives me a lot to write about.
Q: In the Duchess War Minerva is a chess player. Is chess something you are into or did you have to research the game to write your novel?
I’m actually terrible at chess. Everyone in my family plays; I’m near the tail end of the family, so that meant I was always playing people who were much better than me, and that left me frustrated and not wanting to play. 😉
But I always have to research something, even if (especially if!) I know something about it personally, because the vocabulary and things we know in 2013 are not necessarily what they’d use in 1864.
Q: Do your characters or story plots usually come to you first?
It’s usually the plots: that is, I have an idea for some plot that sticks in my head. But that’s never a real book; I need a lot more than that to make something a real book. I get some plot idea that sticks in my head. And then I get ideas for characters in my head. At some point, enough of these things collide and then I think I have a real book.
Then I start writing the book and I realize my ideas are all dumb and what I end up with is absolutely nothing like the book I’d envisioned.
Q: Was there something specific that sparked the idea for The Duchess War? If so what was is?
It’s like you want me to illustrate how my ideas come together or something. 😉
So here’s how the idea for the Duchess War started: I had this idea for this series about flash mobs in the Victorian era. My agent thought it was great. (The ideas for this series started coming together when self-publishing wasn’t even remotely an option, and I’d talked it over with her.) I was sure it was awesome. It was high concept. What could be more high concept than Victorian flash mobs? And it’s great because some of the things I’ve seen (think Improv Everywhere) are just cute and funny, but they’re also fairly problematic, something I could talk about for a while. So problematic set up with potential for both humor and real consequences: sounds good, right?
The original scene that I envisioned for The Duchess War was of a duke trying to make himself persona non grata in polite society by releasing several hundred mice in a crowded ball.
That scene never made it into the book, mostly because I couldn’t figure out where to go from there, and also, I realized that if hundreds of mice were released in a ballroom, mouse death would ensue. I’m soft-hearted. I can’t cope with the death of anything furry. (I couldn’t even kill a PLANT in the Heiress Effect!) I spent several days trying to figure out how to not kill any mice before realizing that to satisfy myself, I would have to make the entirety of the first chapter about how the mice were all safe, which nobody wanted to read about. So I tossed that whole idea.
And then the more I thought about it, the stupider the flash mob idea seemed–in order for the flash mob thing to matter to the series, the flash mobs would have to create serious conflict. This might last one book. But what, after serious problems crop up in book one regarding flash mobs, they keep doing them? How dumb would they have to be?
I decided at that point that I wasn’t going to try for high concept anymore.
But the basics of who the Brothers Sinister were–that Robert had a half-brother who had changed the way he saw the world, that he was working to equalize them, that there was a rake who was also a scientist–started with the premise that they were doing Victorian flash mobs.
As it turned out, the mouse theme still came up in the actual first chapter of The Duchess War. I just made sure that my mouse could fight back, and yes, she does end up all right.
Q: How many books do you usually put out in a year?
I try to do 2 full-length books a year. Sometimes it’s a little bit less. Sometimes it’s a little bit more. I’m actively trying to be just a little bit more productive with every book. Ask me in two years how that went. 😉
Q: I am a fairly new writer and I think we forget that all writers were new and struggling once. Can you share a bit about the beginning of your career? Any terrible disappointments? How long did it take for you to really feel like you were a successful writer? How many books did you have to write before you became a bestselling author?
It feels baffling to me when people think I’m not new. My first book was published in 2010; that was not that long ago! It feels like just yesterday. And the thing is, I feel like I’ve been successful, and I’ve done pretty well for myself, but I haven’t been doing this very long, so I also feel like everything I’ve achieved is precarious and can dry up in an instant.
As for how long it took me to become a bestselling author: My first published work was a Christmas novella that appeared alongside a novella by Mary Balogh. So I was a USA Today bestselling author with my first published work. I don’t really feel like that counts as me being a bestselling author, because almost nobody but my mom was buying it for my name.
Now we come to terrible disappointments. That would be…just about everything that happened after that anthology for the space of about a year and a half. I don’t want to dwell on the details, but the sales of my first two books were the opposite of exciting. I felt sick to my stomach about what was happening to my career every day. Sometimes I could make myself forget it, but mostly I just felt ill.
When Unveiled came out, my publisher printed 1/3 the number of copies as they did of my debut novel. It was immensely frustrating–I felt like Unveiled was the best book I’d written thus far, and nobody was ever going to have a chance to read it. My publisher offered me another contract, but it was hedged around with a lot of statements like, “Well, this is conditional on Courtney writing different things, because people just don’t want to buy the books she’s writing.”
That was the point when digital took off, and I decided I didn’t want to deal with people telling me what to write and what not to write, and they were hardly putting out any print copies as it was (at least that’s what I thought at the time–I’ve now talked to people who have had print runs that were 1/5 the size of my “tiny” print run for Unveiled). The day I decided to self-publish was the day I stopped feeling sick to my stomach about a career I couldn’t control and people who made me feel like my lack of success was my fault.
So I wrote Unlocked and became a bestselling author again.
Q: What are you working on now?
I’m working on finishing up the Brothers Sinister series (one last book, one last novella). And while I’m doing that, I’m planning out my next series, which I’m tentatively calling the Worth saga because it centers around a family called Worth. I don’t want to say anything more than that, because hello, the last time I had a series in the initial planning phases it was going to be about flash mobs. 😉
Q: Any advice for beginning authors?
Write a lot and read a lot and don’t stop. You’ll get better with every book.
Thanks Ms. Milan for the interview!