Unclaimed by Courtney Milan
Published in 2011 by Harlequin Books
Rating: Liked it. (4/5)
I think one of the reasons I so enjoy the virginal-hero trope in romance novels is that there is always the question of whether he will bend his principles in the case of the heroine, something I find much more entertaining than the heros who sleep around until choosing to "settle down" for the heroine. Such a trope also provides a more subversive commentary on the double standards that continue to persist from the Victorian era into our own
Mark Turner has gone one further than the average virginal hero: he's put his principles to paper and published A Gentleman's Practical Guide to Chastity. Unfortunately for him, it was a runaway success, propelling him to the Victorian equivalent of rock star status. He's been knighted. His male fans have formed the Male Chastity Brigade, the MCB, complete with cockades and secret handshakes. He cannot walk down the street without being besieged by autograph seekers. He wants nothing more than escape and hies off to Shepton Mallet, his childhood home.
Jessica Carlisle, courtesan, is also seeking escape; from a life she cannot stand and a man who betrayed her trust unforgivably, and she is willing to ruin Sir Mark to get it. If she can seduce Sir Mark and cause a scandal that will strip away an offer to join the Commission on Poor Laws, George Weston, her former lover, promised her enough money to set up a small establishment in the country.
As she did in Unveiled, Milan brings us sobering subjects that do not always appear between the pages of escapist fiction, this time touching, among other topics: prejudice against sex workers and against women who enjoy sex, the assumption that the two above groups are indistinguishable, reproductive rights and bodily autonomy for women.
Though it was for this volume that I started reading Milan, she's proven to be a writer with a great deal more to offer than one book with a favourite trope.
I hereby install her on the "Must Read" list.