Once Upon a Marquess (Worth Saga) (Volume 1) by Courtney Milan. 2015. Reviewed from NetGalley.
The Plot: 1866. Judith Worth was born into wealth and privilege. Her childhood was like something out of a romance novel: family estate, wealthy family, large happy family. She even fell in love with her brother's best friend, Christian Trent, now the Marquess of Ashford.
That was before. Before Christian helped destroy and ruin her father. Before her family was scattered across the globe.
And now Judith is barely hanging on, taking care of her younger sister and brother, making (and sometimes burning) her own tea and scones rather than being waited on.
Judith has managed on her own so far. But her world being what she is, and the time being what it is, she needs help with a business matter and as a poor female she can't do it on her own. She turns to Christian, expecting, at best, that he'll hire someone to help.
Christian has been haunted by Judith and her family. He knows he did the right thing, all those years ago, but he still feels like he owes Judith. Her request is his chance at redemption.
The Good: Readers of this blog (and followers on Twitter!) know I've gone on a historical romance reading binge, concentrating mainly on the Regency era. But when you find an author you like, you follow them through time (which, actually, is how I made the jump from contemporary to Regency) and so now I find myself in 1866.
As I read Regency I fall into a fantasy, a fantasy of wealth and privilege and happy endings, a fantasy where servants don't have names or plots, and money just exists. And I'm fine with that, truly I am. But I like when and how authors go beyond that. Most of the authors I've been reading, in one way or another, go beyond that fantasy.
In Once Upon a Marquess, Judith Worth is actually working (won't say how or what, but what she does is new and refreshing and inventive, but it is "work" so despised by the wealthy). She clings to how she was raised, though, and wants to give her younger sisters and brother the life they would have had before her father lost everything following charges of treason. So she lives in a terrible part of town, with no help but for a part time housekeeper, and saves her money to help give her younger sisters a dowry to help find respectable husbands and her brother an Eton education.
And I LOVED this. This look at those who aren't privileged, who don't have helpful and kindly relatives and unexpected inheritances.
And then it turned out to be even more than that. Judith's father was accused of treason; her older brother was, also. Christian gave testimony that condemned her father and transported her brother. What her family did or didn't do; and why or why not; ends up being an examination of the wealth and lifestyles of the wealthy and powerful in England. I love how Milan is addressing historical facts within the context of romance, and making me think, and at the same time is giving me what I crave in a good romance: spice, humor, romance, warmth.
Judith's youngest sister, Theresa, is viewed as odd (today she'd probably be seen as somewhere on the autism spectrum) and an uncle promised he'd care for Judith and her middle sister and youngest brother if they agreed to put Theresa away somewhere. Judith refused; her middle sister stayed with the uncle.
Christian is also "odd" and "different"; again, today, there would be a diagnosis (OCD, perhaps). But then, no, so how he is treated and what he does to address his compulsion is of that time. And ties into his friendship with Judith's family and guides his actions now.
There is a middle sister, Camilla, who stayed with the uncle who promised a continued life of ease in exchange for no contact with that embarrassment, Theresa. This is a series about the Worths and their friends, so the next full book (After the Wedding) is about Camilla, and her journey as the poorer, powerless, female relative. Before then is a novella (Her Every Wish) about one of Judith's friends, Daisy, a friend from her life "now" so someone who is poor and struggling but still dreaming.
I can't wait for these other books -- so far the good thing about reading a new to me genre is doing so with completed series. So this is one of my first "ugh I have to wait" books.
I have only one small complaint: Christian has a terrible sense of humor. It's so bad that both his mother and cousin fear it will stop a good match from happening; but Judith finds him funny. Alas, I have to agree with his mother and cousin.
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