Even in an abbreviated form, Courtney Milan knows what’s up. Unlocked is a truly delightful story about second chances, forgiveness, and absolving forEven in an abbreviated form, Courtney Milan knows what’s up. Unlocked is a truly delightful story about second chances, forgiveness, and absolving for past mistakes. Even a tricky romance like this, between a woman and the man who bullied her mercilessly, comes out all right when written by this author.
Lady Elaine was first introduced in Unveiled as a sort of unlikeable friend to the protagonist, but now in Unlocked, Milan is able to really explore Elaine’s character and bring out her past. Always a bit different, Elaine was proud of herself until Evan Carlton, the Earl of Westfield, began to bully her. The rest of society joined in, until it was the height of fashion to make fun of Elaine, and she began to hate herself so much that suicide seemed like a viable option. Then, after a year, Evan left England, but now a decade later, he comes back and apologizes for how he behaved. Like any smart woman, Elaine doesn’t buy it. Why should she?
Because Unlocked is narrated in dual-perspective from both Elaine and Evan’s points of view, the reader is able to understand Evan’s motivations in this situation as well. In short, he was in love with Elaine and wanted to get her attention but also wanted to keep his love a secret, so he…made fun of her. And then once he realized what he’d done, he ran away rather than facing up to reality and apologizing to Elaine. Basically, everything the reader seems to know about Evan hints that he’s a terrible person.
Except he’s genuinely remorseful and works for a period of several months to prove this to Elaine.
I’ve read another historical romance novel where the protagonist absolutely ruined another person’s life, then disappeared for several years before coming back. The difference in that situation was that the protagonist in the other book never apologized for their actions. Not once. But in Unlocked, Evan apologizes profusely and often, and he also understands that Elaine isn’t obligated to accept his apology or spend any more time with him than she wants. Just because he’s remorseful doesn’t make everything better right away. That’s what I liked about Unlocked. This is a book where a previously awful main character doesn’t just show up and expect his love interest to fly back into his arms, nor does he expect that an apology will solve all of the issues at hand. Evan works to demonstrate his feelings and maturation, and also doesn’t feel entitled to Elaine’s love at the end of it all. He understands the weight of his actions.
I mean, I feel like bully-turned-lover romance isn’t my favorite trope ever because of how inherently problematic it is, but wow, does Courtney Milan know how to do it right. Unlocked may be short, but it carries just as much emotion and impact as any full-length romance novel.
There is a reason Courtney Milan is my favorite historical romance author, and I think Unveiled really proves that. I’ve yet to dislike any of her booThere is a reason Courtney Milan is my favorite historical romance author, and I think Unveiled really proves that. I’ve yet to dislike any of her books, of course, but by rights I should have disliked this one—it having quite a few romance tropes I’m really not a fan of (like a character lying about their identity to their romantic interest). But, of course, Milan knows her stuff, and though this isn’t my favorite of hers, it’s nevertheless a great, re-readable book.
I, generally, really enjoy Milan’s male leads, and Ash Turner was no different. He was genuinely kind and attentive and loyal, though he was also hellbent on revenge—though not for his own sake. Ash’s love and protectiveness toward his younger brothers was probably the highlight of Unveiled for me, and I loved how real and complicated the author was able to make that relationship.
More that that, the way Ash interacted with Margaret, the female lead, was also satisfying. She, obviously, is lying to him about who she is and what her goals are, but his reaction to that reveal was anything but expected. This goes a long way both to thwart romance novel tradition, but also to really reveal the sort of character Ash was. (To be honest, he might be a little too perfect, but anyway.)
OH. Also Ash is dyslexic and I loved that Milan portrayed that and proved that it wasn’t a disastrous calamity that prevented him from having a functional life. Yes indeedy.
I did come to like Margaret a lot by the end of Unveiled, but initially I had trouble with how closed-minded and snobbish she was. But, of course, over the course of the story the reader sees Margaret learning to set aside the rigid social distinctions she was raised to believe in and also sees her coming to view things from other perspectives. More importantly, Milan focuses Margaret’s growth on proactivity and self-realization. Over the course of Unveiled, Margaret comes to believe in her own importance and her own worth, which is just…ahhh. So happy-making. In some ways, Ash’s perfection is almost merely the tool for Margaret’s personal journey, which is why I’m more willing to accept his near flawlessness.
Altogether, this was an excellent book, about two strong, nuanced characters who learn about each other and themselves. The strong family element was also a huge point in this book’s favor, as were the few moments of comic relief provided by said family. Unveiled is yet another great example of why Courtney Milan is one of the best (if not the best).