5 star book review for The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan, the final full-length novel in the Brothers Sinister series, now available in bookstores and retailers.
[Some Spoilers; For Mature Audiences]
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
I’m not new to historical romance at all, so it’s with much amazement that I say, I’ve never read a book quite like this one before.
It has everything you’d want in a romance novel: a scoundrel for a hero, a heroine with a backbone and sharp wit to match, then add in a little bit of scandal and drama. Except this scoundrel is different, and this heroine doesn’t just have backbone—she’s a revolutionary.
Free Marshall has always been in the background of The Brothers Sinister series by Courtney Milan. She is the younger, half-sister of Oliver Marshall, whose book is second in the series and called The Heiress Effect. We see the beginnings of her suffragette leanings in that book, but it isn’t until her own story comes out in The Suffragette Scandal, that we see what Free has really been up to. This book jumps nearly eleven years after The Countess Conspiracy, in which Free coins the term “chromosome”, by the way.
Even though it is part of a series, this book can stand-alone* in a way. We do see flashes of the previous characters, but Free isn’t close to any of them, so it won’t throw off new readers. Instead, she maintains a small group of friends who help her run her press.
Since completing university, Free has established herself as an independent women, in large to part due to an inheritance left by her Aunt Frederica, a novelist. Not only is she past the marrying age (in society’s eyes, at least), she’s also the owner and editrix-in-Chief of Women’s Free Press, a newspaper that’s by women—for women—about women.
Naturally, Free’s nature not to conform to society’s standards makes her an outcast and walking scandal as it is. She’s a suffragette! And she is loud and proud over it. She fights for women’s rights and is an investigative journalist. Free Marshall is turning the world, as everyone else knows it, on its head.
Then a man comes into her life, telling her that someone is out to take her down for good. Despite her lack of trust in him, she can’t help but sit up and listen. This isn’t the first threat she’s faced, but it’s the most legitimate because it comes from the man who asked her to be his mistress, and she turned him down. Free is well-aware of the bad blood between herself and the Honorable James Delacey, and if she wants to escape unscathed, she’ll need all the help she can get.
Edward Clark, self-titled scoundrel, is there with one goal in mind—revenge. He’s a forger, a metalworker, a master at skirting the truth, and has long since dropped the Delacey last name to distance himself from the family that left him for dead.
After living in France for several years, Edward finds himself back in England, trying to put a stop to the plans his younger brother has for one of Edward’s childhood friends.
Edward breaks into his old home to talk to his younger brother, James Delacey. What follows is a truce, in a way. Edward won’t claim the title of Viscount Claridge as long as James leaves his friend Stephen alone.
The only problem is Stephen works for the Women’s Free Press, and James’ end goal of destruction isn’t Stephen. It’s the woman who runs the press that he wants ruined—the woman who shot him down.
Miss Free Marshall.
After his meeting with Free, plans change completely for Edward, and so begins the beautiful, complicated, and witty relationship between them.
I don’t want to give away anymore because from this part on I want you to experience it first hand. The love, tenderness, shock, confusion, and reconciliation.
Without a doubt, Courtney Milan knows how to write a romance novel. This novel was masterfully put together and thought out. It’s applicable to our time, and that makes it both eye opening and sad all at once.
One of my favorite passages in the book takes place near the middle when Edward and Free are still fighting their attraction somewhat, and he’s asking her what she’s getting from doing all this. All she receives from people is hate and scorn, and Edward says her mission—to win the vote—is like trying to empty the Thames with a thimble. Free’s response absolutely gutted me because I find it to be true even today:
“You see a river rushing by without end. You see a sad collection of women with thimbles, all dipping out an inconsequential amount.”
He didn’t say anything.
“But we’re not trying to empty the Thames,” she told him. “Look at what we’re doing with the water we remove. It doesn’t go to waste. We’re using it to water our gardens, sprout by sprout. We’re growing bluebells and clovers where once there was a desert. All you see is the river, but I care about the roses.”
At its heart, this book is about the struggle of women through the centuries. The expectations laid upon them, and the duties that were (and still are) expected of them. It’s the heartbeat of thousands of women who paved the way for the rights that women have today. The ridicule they endured. The jail time they faced. The agonizing torture of being locked away while men who carried the same diseases walked free.
This isn’t just a historical romance. It’s layered and raw, and quite honestly comes full circle, in my opinion, to the novella that started it all, The Governess Affair*. Free is giving women the voice that her mother never had, and I honestly don’t think there’s any way she could have made her family prouder.
I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who loves strong-willed heroines and men that aren’t perfect but perfectly support the women they love. All the stars for The Suffragette Scandal.