Judith Worth once thought she would have a fairytale romance with Christian, the Marquess of Ashford. They were young, in love...what could go wrong? Well, what went wrong was that Judith's father and brother were accused of treason, and Christian helped to prove them guilty. In the following scandal, Judith's father hung himself in prison, her brother disappeared in a storm while being transported to Australia, the family lost its fortune, Judith's younger sister Camilla got separate from the rest of the family, and Judith ended up with her little sister Theresa and her little brother Benedict in much-reduced circumstances. Now, eight years later, something is awry with her accounts and her guardianship of her siblings, and she--unfortunately--needs someone with a little more influence to help her straighten things out. Someone like...the Marquess of Ashford, of course.
This was a cute historical romance, but I don't think it matched up with the plot of some of the other Courtney Milan books I've read. Judith is definitely a strong character, who has cared for her family for eight years despite having to scrimp and save and learn skills that would be considered unbecoming of a lady. She's managed to send her brother to Eton and to provide dowries for both her sisters. She only turns to Christian for help because someone people, as is fitting to the time period, don't respect her, and because she doesn't have the same level of authority as someone holding a title and whose family reputation hasn't been tarnished by two traitors. Christian had some great dynamics, too--the color blindness was an interesting character trait, though not one necessary to the story, but his addiction to laudanum/opium is the real interesting one. I think Milan used it well, without using it to pander. Christian's real battle with the drug is in the past, but it's made abundantly clear that he's just one taste away from sliding back into addiction, and that he'll never really stop being an addict, even if he never touches it again, which is very true of many addictions. Theresa was absolutely insufferable. Benedict was better but was too young to be a really compelling character yet. Overall, though, the cast of this was pretty solid.
That said, I didn't find Christian and Judith's romance particularly romantic in comparison to Milan's other works. It's a fine line between having a steamy romance and having a book where the guy is just trampling all over the heroine, and I think that Milan held off on the romance in order to make sure that Judith's strength didn't get lost or discarded in the process. A lot of this lack of romance is also because, well...Judith and Christian don't fall in love in this book. They fall in love eight years before the events of the book. There are a few flashback moments, but the plot is more about them--mostly Judith--admitting that those feelings are still there than discovering and building them in the first place. This means that the whole romance plot reads as the last 25% of most books, rather than the entirety of most. If there had been a break and reconciliation of most sides, it might have been a bit more bodied, but with just Judith harboring these conflicted emotions--Christian's devotion never falters--it...drags somewhat. The other events of the book, like the attempts to reconnect with Camilla, are really more intriguing than the actual romance, which doesn't end up really escalating until late in the book.
I think there's a lot of potential for the Worth family; Milan says in the afterword that she plans on the series being seven books long, the second being about Camilla, which seems like it's going to be awesome. The dynamic that this book sets up is intriguing, with the elements of treason, missing persons, and so on, but I don't think it is a strong book on its own. It's more of a prologue for the others.
3.5 stars out of 5, but for the elements other than romance.