December 21, 2015
A plethora of angst! Send in the clowns (funny ones, if there are such things).
Just finished Ms. Milan’s latest book Once Upon a Marquess, which is the first in her Worth Saga series. Here’s the thing. I read the stuff in the back of the book and it says there are
going to be seven full-length books in this series plus some novellas. Now I know from experience that Ms. Milan is a slow writer, she even admits that she is. So, what does that mean to me? It means that I will probably be in an assisted care unit by the time the last of these books hit the shelves/electronic formats. Oh, puleese Ms. Milan write a little faster, ‘cause I don’t think I will be able to remember all of these characters in seven years.
I am a big fan of Courtney Milan for numerous reasons. Number one, I believe she is one of the authors who have guided the publishing world down a different path. I’m sure they were kicking and screaming all the way, but hey, things change. I think what makes her so different was that she was very public about the path she was going down. She is one of a number of authors who have proved that the term “self-publish” is not to be looked down on. I bet she will never hear that snide out-of-the-side-of-the-mouth comment, “Oh, you published it yourself.” On top of all that, she is also a marvelous writer. So, I am always excited when she has a new book out there and always disappointed that I can zip through one in a day, sometimes a few hours, depending on if someone is nattering in my ear.
On to Once Upon a Marquess. While I am thrilled that Courtney Milan has started a new series, this particular one was not quite as spectacular as some of her other books. The main reason for this is that it had the feel of a prequel. There was an awful lot of setting the stage for stories that are to follow and that in turn gave short-thrift to the romance between Christian and Judith. I’m not saying that these two characters were not fully-developed – they were – it’s just that the romance seemed a little rushed, especially as we moved closer to the end.
One of the issues I had with Christian and Judith was that they were loaded down with problems. Oh, the angst. This story is filled with angst. Let’s look at some of the angst. When Christian and Judith were young, he was just 21 she was still a teenager, they fell in love. Christian had/has some kind of mental challenge, he was OCD or something; not quite sure what the problem was. He counts beads to calm down. When he was a child, his father wanted to put him in an asylum but his mother prevented that by giving him laudanum. As you might guess the laudanum brought with it more problems and he became an addict. So he’s an opium addict on top of being OCD or something. It was his best friend Anthony who he credits with saving him from his addiction. By the way, Anthony is Judith’s older brother. So, everything should be hunky-dory. What could be better than Christian being in love with his best friend’s sister, Judith? Welllllll let me tell you kiddoes, Anthony and his father are accused of being traitors to their country. Who should their accuser be but Christian. That kind of puts a screeching halt to the romance, especially when the father commits suicide and Anthony is transported, then Anthony’s ship goes down and he disappears. This leaves Judith hating Christian and Christian with a gi-normous guilt complex – plus the OCD and the opium addiction. And, that’s just the beginning. Anyone know a good joke?
More angst. Now, eight years have gone by and Judith needs help. You see, she is the sole support of her family. Her father is dead, Anthony has drowned/disappeared; she had a fight with her sister Camilla and Camilla has disappeared. She has another sister, Theresa, but Theresa also is challenged. Theresa is either autistic or something, maybe a tad bit spoiled. She takes everything quite literally and adopts cats – lots of cats. Then there is Benedict, the youngest brother. He’s being bullied at Eton, he’s been beat up and is now home refusing to go back. Judith has been taking in money by creating mechanical clockwork things. In fact, she’s quite talented. She’s always been ashamed of this talent because people look at her oddly. The only person who never thought she was odd was Christian, but she hatesssss him. But now she needs his help. She has been sending money to her sister Camilla (even though she doesn't know where she is) and that money has disappeared and the solicitor will not tell her where the money is. Christian seems to be the only person who can scare the solicitor into talking, which is why Judith has turned to him for help. Here is the run down so far: Christian feels guilty because he accused the luv of his life’s father of treason, which caused the father to kill himself and the brother to disappear and Christian feels guilty and Judith will never love him and he tells jokes to lighten the tension and Judith can’t find her one sister and the other one adopts cats and doesn’t help around the house and her younger brother is being bullied and beat up and her friend is starving. And, now we are ready for chapter two.
There was a lot going on in this book. Both Judith and Christian had enormous burdens on their shoulders. And, in Judith’s case there was no one at all to help her. Oh sure, she as a friend, Daisy, but Daisy has her own problems (novella coming). Besides that Judith and Daisy never talk about real problems, they always make up stories about the Queen coming to dine. It is a day to day struggle for these two girls to provide for their families. Anyone here ever seen The Joy Luck Club? I loved that movie, but I cried all the way through the stupid thing. And, that was because there was just one heartache after another – on and on and on. There was no relief. That is what this book is like. Just one more dump on Judith. Spoilers of sorts: There is an enormous fight between her and Theresa. She’s finds out that Benedict is hiding something very very very important from her. And, there is a BIG portrayal – not Christian, but someone else. It’s never ending sadness.
I think that Theresa was supposed to be the comic relief, but I had a problem with laughing at her antics. They just seemed to be more of a burden for Judith than anything else. There was a very poignant sister make-up scene.
Now you might think I didn’t like this book. Well, you would be wrong. This was a very powerful book and a very important part of the series. It establishes what is to come and there is a slight cliff-hanging ending. What makes this story so hard to review is that I found Once Upon a Marquess emotionally draining, but still one that should be read. So, I do strongly recommend this book, but just be prepared to be bombarded by some really tense emotion. This may be a book that should be read after the holidays, maybe with a stiff drink in one hand and a joke book in the other.
And now a word from Woody Allen: “I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose.”
Time Place: 1866 England