The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan

August 13, 2013 Historical, Reviews 3

Book cover with a brown-haired white woman standing with her back to the camera looking over her left shoulder while wearing a full-skirted green satin ballgown.My abiding love for Courtney Milan books is well documented. You should know that I have neither objectivity nor credibility on this subject. (Which means you should totally read every Courtney Milan review I ever write because the breakup is going to an epic bit of room clearing.) ANYWAY. The Heiress Effect. The book she didn’t really want to write.

Ok, that’s probably not true. I’m fairly sure CM wanted to write The Heiress Effect as much as she’s wanted to write any of her books in the Brothers Sinister series since she’s self publishing and therefore not beholden to contracts, Everything about The Heiress Effect indicates an author wanting to push the edges of the genre out just a bit farther and squeeze more interesting people in the box.

Our core couple, Oliver and Jane, are a fairly typical lead. Oliver is of noble blood but moderate birth. He’s the stuck between two worlds kind of guy busy figuring out what price is too high to pay for his ambitions. I liked him fine. Jane is desperate to protect her family but constrained by limited legal rights. They should just kiss and get married already so we can move on to the secondary romance.

Ok. FINE, That’s not fair. Oliver and Jane do not suck even a little bit. Jane is a woman of outlandish attire and complete social failure. Oliver is a man of painful exactitude. In each other they recognize kindred spirits, people constrained by the demands of their lives to wear social masks. I loved them, they rock. Jane gets extra points for refusing to take a man willing to accept her when an outsider would claim that’s the best she can get. Oliver and Jane, super awesome.

But wow, the secondary romance. I need to not spoil it but I need to tell you everything about it in extreme detail. There is a minority character who clearly sees the limits racism put on his career and daily life. There is a disabled character who refuses to accept the limitations others confer on her because of her medical constraints. These crazy kids meet and save themselves. Push a couch under me because I’m swooning.

But wait! You also get the voting rights movement, same sex attracted characters who are neither saints nor sinners, class turmoil and complicated family dynamics. Now how much would you read this? (If Oliver’s sister doesn’t bat for the home team and hook up with Obvious Childhood Friend I will be so sad. I’m pretty sure Obvious Childhood Friend is actually going to hook up with Jane’s Friend instead, though. Wait! What if Jane’s Friend and Oliver’s Sister are… yes kids, I’m shipping the secondaries.)

I’d love to give The Heiress Effect an unqualified endorsement but I can’t. The side story of Anjan and Emily is so strong that it occasionally overpowers Oliver and Jane. I don’t want to leave Emily to find out what Jane is doing, although when I do Jane is perfectly interesting in her own right.

My other caveat is a scene where Emily stands up for proper pronunciation that makes sense from a class and ethnicity perspective but was an eye roller from a reader perspective. I also feel completely unqualified to judge Anjan’s family dynamics or Emily’s understanding of them. Is she correct? Is this stereotypical? I have no idea. Let me know after you read it.

Final Assessment: Omg, yes you should read this! Best secondary romance since R2-D2 and C-3PO. A-

Source: Copy provided for review.

Series: Book Two of the Brothers Sinister.

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Meoskop's first non-compulsory book review was in 1973. Although a hit with the 3rd grade, concerns raised by the administration necessitated an extended hiatus. Reviews resumed in 1985 but the concerns are ongoing.

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3 Responses to “The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan”

  1. Janine Ballard

    Great review. This was such a good book and I’m so glad you highlighted some of these strengths.

    “I also feel completely unqualified to judge Anjan’s family dynamics or Emily’s understanding of them. Is she correct? Is this stereotypical? I have no idea.”

    When I was putting together my own review of this book, I asked my co-blogger Sunita about this because she is a historian and knowledgeable about both the culture and the time period. My understanding, based on what she said, is that given that Anjan’s last name, Bhattacharya, indicates that he is of the Brahmin caste, the odds of his mother accepting or approving of his and Emily’s marriage are almost nil.

    While there were some marriages between Englishmen and Indian women who emigrated to England, the reverse — a marriage between a man of high enough caste to come to England and an Englishwoman — has not come to Sunita’s notice and probably didn’t exist.

    IIRC, it’s also unlikely that Anjan’s mother would have come to England as she does in the novel, due to a religious prohibition that existed in this time period and discouraged women of her background from crossing the ocean.

    In fact, if my understanding of Sunita is correct then the conversation between Anjan and Emily about Indian home rule and independence was anachronistic too since home rule and independence are 20th Century concepts.

    Because I only picked up on the issues mentioned in my first two paragraphs enough to wonder if approval/acceptance of the marriage was possible, I only referenced the first two points in my (largely positive) review.

    I had such a great time reading about Anjan and Emily that it doesn’t bother me much if their relationship is pretty much historically impossible. I’m still glad it was included in the book.

  2. Meoskop

    Thanks for the insight from Sunita – I went and read yours and it made me realize I overlooked Freddy in this write up. I was so very conflicted about Freddy. While her resolution is easily likely to be true for her real life counterpart, it didn’t feel true to me for this character. It felt like something you would want to be true yet not enough groundwork was laid for me to completely accept it.

    Granted, we never really know people, even the people we are closest to. And it explained how Freddie’s limited income stretched to the level of enough, but it broke the spell of Freddie somehow. Because Freddie had this outlet that I don’t believe she did, it minimized the small self created world she exists in. It was almost like a happy ending for the unhappy Freddie, one she didn’t seem to earn.

  3. Janine Ballard

    @Meoskop: You’re welcome. Your post and writing my comment have made me think about the balance writers have to strike between historical accuracy and making the story work for contemporary readers.

    The conversation between Emily and Anjan which touched on home rule and independence moved me and made me root for Anjan and Emily. I think it very much appeals to my 21st century perspective, as does the idea that a marriage between these two characters could take place successfully and happily, without ruining the hero’s family relationships.

    Had Milan kept the story accurate, I think it would not have worked nearly as well for me.

    Conversely, there have been times when I’ve appreciated stories for portraying injustices that existed in history. And it’s a tough call for me, as a writer writing something set in the Victorian era, to know to what degree to show the blind spots people had in those days even in the main characters, and to what degree to make the good guys good by today’s standards. There isn’t usually an easy answer to the accuracy vs. contemporary sensibilities dilemma, IMO.

    Re. Freddy,

    I can understand that viewpoint but Freddy’s character worked much better for me. Maybe partly because I remembered how in The Governess Affair, Freddy was always writing something, and partly because I really like the idea (especially in fiction) that even when we think we know someone well, we can later find out something that completely surprises us. We only saw Freddy through Oliver’s eyes, and therefore we shared his surprise.