[*NB I wrote this on June 24... but saved it for now. You can see when I finished the novella by my tweet. I was tempted to "!!!!" at Courtney Milan earlier, but couldn't stop reading until the end.]
A perpetual wallflower destined for spinsterhood, Lady Elaine Warren is resigned to her position in society. So when Evan Carlton, the powerful, popular Earl of Westfeld, singles her out upon his return to England, she knows what it means. Her former tormenter is up to his old tricks, and she’s his intended victim. This time, though, the earl is going to discover that wallflowers can fight back.
Evan has come to regret his cruel, callow past. At first, he only wants to make up for past wrongs. But when Elaine throws his initial apology in his face, he finds himself wanting more. And this time, what torments him might be love…
I won Unlocked as part of a twitter giveaway Jane L did a while ago. I heard a lot of hype about it, knew it recently number two in kindle sales. (Congratulations, Ms. Milan!) I wanted the story, and knew I’d read it at some point because I like Courtney Milan’s writing. Even so… even despite wanting to read the story… I remained skeptical. For a while, my bio, while tongue in cheek, yes, had some truth in it, as “I’m that bitch who didn’t like your book.” In that… while it’s not that I dislike most books, I’m just not that blown away by them. Especially the ones that are hyped. Perhaps it’s the cynic in me – and we won’t go into reasons why or theories I might have.
With Unlocked? It floored me.
Unlocked is an amazing novella. I’m really at a loss for words as to how to describe it. Courtney Milan is a great writer. I knew this, and expect good things from her. But here, she’s positively genius in conveying human emotion. I felt for the characters, and understood them perfectly. I got their pain and their struggles. I cried. The story had angst, but not for the sake of drama. It was there because it was necessary and real and how the events unfolded.
It’s a story about redemption, learning to let go, to love yourself, and move on. It’s a story about growth, and human nature, and how people can be terrible and wonderful. In fact, the following is a quote that positively slayed me. It’s Elaine speaking to Evan, after they’re “reunited.”
“But none of that matters. What I see you, I remember that you made me want to drown rather than be myself.”
And I know it doesn’t mean as much taken out of context, but another quote I bookmarked.
“When a man was nineteen, he felt invulnerable – as if nothing could touch him. That stupid belief had been the basis of a great many idiotic things that Evan had done in his life. But this notion that all the hurt he’d caused could simply disappear because he wanted it to – that had been the last childish dream he’d held on to. He let go of it now. What you did when you were young could kill you. It just might take years to do it.”
Elaine and Evan are perfectly matched, although it takes them a long time to see it. They’re both honest, but not. Vulnerable, yet determined to protect themselves. Yet they’re brave in revealing themselves. There’s no reason for me to summarize the story – the blurb does that.
I can only tell you that as I read it, I felt. The ending was lovely, of course, and we all know it’s happy. It’s the perfect mix and a blending of everything you want to see in a book. Ms. Milan even includes subtle humor.
I think what resonated with me so strongly is that Ms. Milan shows in her writing that actions have consequences, whether you mean them or intend them to or not. And a relationship isn’t just about how you perceive things, but how you as a couple view them. It’s so realistic, and things take time, yet the pacing is perfect. There’s no lag, but the story isn’t rushed either. (Although, I do have a complaint of sorts with how it ended. I wish it would have focused on Elaine and Evan, instead of Diana. Here’s the cynicism again… to some it might herald a change in someone who had been solely vicious – a high note to end a story, with human growth and a step towards betterment. To me, it was more like a hook for a next book or new series. I could be mistaken… but I think we’ll see Diana again.)
Nevertheless, the epilogue is quite sweet, and I loved how – and this is more of an aesthetic, but it matters – the cover relates so perfectly with the story. Every part of Unlocked fits together. From the characters, to the plot, to how the book starts – literally with the image on the cover.
I know this is a story I will remember for a long time, and the characters will stay with me. I definitely recommend Unlocked to everyone – even if you don’t normally read historical romances.
Courtney Milan, I have to say – tonight, you got me excited about reading again. Thank you.
Giveaway time! As I enjoyed it so much, one lucky commenter will win her – or his- very own kindle copy of Unlocked. Talk to me – what do you like most about romances, or historicals? Do you focus on the emotions? Is realism or pragmatism important to you?