Monday, October 21, 2013

"Trial By Desire," by Courtney Milan (Harlequin, 2010)

The Chick: Lady Kathleen Carhart. While hiding beneath the guise of a flaky society lady, she secretly saves women from their abusive husbands.
The Rub: Her estranged husband unexpectedly returns - right when she's hiding the battered wife of one of his bros.
Dream Casting: Rose McIver.

The Dude: Lord Ned Carhart. A young aristocrat who went to India to atone for his feckless youth and gain control over his depressive moods.
The Rub: He's back in town, but his wife threatens his tightly-held control over his emotions.
Dream Casting: Tom Mison.

The Plot: 

Kate: Now that we're married, can we have sexytimes now?


Three Years Later

Ned: Sup. I'm back. What's with the cold shoulder? I abandoned you for three years, refuse to have sex with you or touch you, and ignore everything you actually say because I'm only thinking of your comfort.

Kate: You're a moron. *hies off to save ladies*

Ned: Wow! You save ladies for a living! Clearly I've come in at just the right time to do everything for you and save everyone because I'm a dude!

Kate: I am inexplicably unoffended by this. Proceed!

Day: *is saved*

Ned: Oh bee tee dubs, I have depression but I've decided to trust you now because I feel like it.

Kate: Awesome! Happy ending time!


Romance Convention Checklist
  • 1 Estranged Married Couple
  • 1 Super-Capable Heroine
  • 1 Hiding-His-Damage Hero
  • 1 Mental Illness
  • 1 Malfunctioning Pistol
  • 1 Abusive Misogynist Villain
  • 1 Twitchy Cart Horse
The Word: This was an interesting novel to read because there was an enormous gap between how much I loved the heroine - and how incredibly annoyed I was with the hero.

The novel opens with our hero, Ned (who we previously met in Milan's debut novel Proof by Seduction) abandoning his wife of three months to battle his personal demons in India. 

His abandonment devastates his new bride, Kate, and leaves her with a whole host of trust issues and a burning desire to prove to herself that she's more than just a wife to be laid aside like an accessory. So ... she becomes a Battered Woman Saver, secretly using her wealth and status to spirit away abused wives and give them new lives and identities in America.

For reals. Her newest case is her friend, Louisa, Countess of Harcroft. Her husband, the Earl of Harcroft, is a vicious abuser who has already started threatening their infant son, Jeremy. Louisa's husband's high rank and her baby being his heir make this Kate's toughest case yet, and she can't afford to make a mistake.

So, of course, this is when Ned decides to make his glorious return - three years after deserting his wife to fart around in India. And did I mention he and Harcroft used to be bros? Kate (who is hiding Louisa and her baby on her property) obviously can't afford to trust Ned with her secret. 

I was consistently infuriated by Ned in this novel. We're clearly meant to empathize with him more than Kate because, as we soon learn, he suffers from bouts of terrifying clinical depression. Which sucks because, well, it's the 19th century and people hadn't even identified it as an illness yet, much less developed treatment for it.

I tried to empathize with Ned, really I did. I understood his dedication to physical activity and why he was constantly challenging himself and creating intentionally uncomfortable environments in order to keep himself mentally alert. I also understand that depression is something that only the sufferer can really deal with. Unfortunately, the bulk of his condition more or less translates into the common hero angst of, "I can't be near the heroine because she makes me feel the powerful Man Feels that are too manly for her delicate female sensibilities!"

His own capacity for empathy is breathtakingly shallow. He shows up after three years and spends much of the first half of the novel befuddled at Kate's anger with his past absence and present refusal to do the nasty. Can't she tell that he's only protecting her from his Big Bad Man Feelings? Can't she tell, magically, that he's doing all of this for her own good?

I understand that the running emotional subplot of this novel is Ned's realization that Kate is her own awesome heroine, doesn't need rescuing from him and that he doesn't have to be Big Strong Hero Ned around her, but he never really loses that condescending vibe - especially with his patronizing attempts to emotionally manipulate her into trusting him.

Kate, on the other hand, is pretty freakin' awesome. She's a gallivanting Lady Batman who saves abused women while hiding her true identity beneath the veneer of an airhead debutante. Of course, the downside of that veneer is that even the people close to her believe she's too delicate and flighty to participate in intellectual discussions, and her loneliness is starting to consume her. I loved her character and her conflict and also her refusal to put up with Ned's ridiculous angst.

All in all, Trial By Desire is kind of a middling novel - it's got a good set-up with a strong heroine, but a condescending and oblivious hero coupled with inconsistent pacing and a strangely anticlimactic ending.


  1. April C4:03 PM

    Hmmmm, the plot line sounds really cool, like Kate sounds like the kind of main character I'd like. But ick, condescending hero, on the other hand I kind of bizarrely like arrogance. I'll have to give Trial By Desire a shot.

  2. Barb in Maryland7:04 PM

    Oh, the cover says it all---
    There's the heroine(??!!) draped across his lap like a dead gazelle. There's the hero (??!!--not how I pictured Ned, at all!!) staring out at us like a possessive lion--"Mine!, all Mine!!!

    I so totally agree--Kate was wonderful (and not a dead gazelle at all!) and Ned was a jerk of the first degree--

    But it is kinda fun to read these older Milan books and track her growth as an incredible writer.

  3. AnimeJune11:31 AM

    Do her books get better? I read the Governess novella and it was kind of m'eh.

  4. AnimeJune11:31 AM

    Maybe you'll like it after all!

  5. Barb in Maryland2:32 PM

    Hmm, I rather liked "The Governess Affair", so maybe I'm the wrong person for you to listen to. I really liked all of the Turner brothers' stories, especially Smite's story (Unraveled). or you could try her novella "A Kiss for Midwinter". It may well be that Milan is one of those writers you just don't mesh with. (I've lost track of the number of writers whose books do nothing for me but that are the subject of rave reviews from reviewers I trust.)

  6. AnimeJune4:32 PM

    I loved her novella in THIS CHRISTMAS GIFT, but so far her writing, while good, just hasn't clicked with me. I'm not really a fan of her type of heroes. In general.