Lists and cats, opium wars, treason and disruption.
This novel has it all, tension permeates every situation along with lightning dashes of humour.
In eight years Lady Judith Worth has gone from sunny lady assured of her place in the world to a woman who struggles to survive, ensuring her brother and sister have a roof over their heads, china that if not matching, is at least not cracked--and plans for her siblings future.
Judith is a gem of a character, unusual in her mechanical interests and quirky substitute words for swearing. She is fierce in her protection of her family--younger sister, the intelligent Theresa and her cats is full of promise and I look forward to her story; youngest sibling Benedict, bullied at Eton and determined not to return, opens up for us as the story progresses; and then there's sister Camilla who chose to live away from the family and has had no contact for all this time.
The Worth family's plunge into disgrace has to do with the Opium Wars in China and the traitorous actions of their father and brother, Anthony. After their trial in the House of Lords, Judith's father committed suicide and brother Anthony was sentenced and transported to Australia. He died enroute. I liked Milan's explanation about Britain's role in the Opium wars with China. Underlying the wars was influential mercantile interests wanting trade with China, and the use opium as a commodity, forcing China to open it's borders. The introduction of opium and the assault on Chinese sovereignty had far reaching effects for that culture. It is not to be glossed over. To my mind this has always been a shameful blot on English history. That Milan has taken these wars and woven a family's history around it (in the genre of Historical Romance) is nothing short of brilliant.
To return to the Worth's. Judith has discovered that money she has earned from her clock designs has gone missing. All her efforts shed no light. She turns to the one person she doesn't want to, Christian Trent, the Marquess of Ashford; her childhood companion, her brother Anthony's best friend, the man she thought she'd marry, the man who exposed her father and brother actions, and in doing so brought them to this pass. Christian is another wonderful character, unusual, warm, with again, that delightful sense of humour that Milan imbues her characters. A man bedevilled with his own spectres and haunted by all that has happened.
Courtney Milan refers to the story as Bill and Fred's excellent adventure--no wonder her characters have such a delightful sense of the ridiculous! In her newsletter Milan mentions that she had aspects of this saga for eons, and how difficult it was to have the storyline come together. In this incarnation, the story has emerged beautifully and satisfyingly. It is filled with small gems of very human warm moments, with an underlying commentary on larger societal issues--the nature of Justice and Honour. I just loved this entree into a new series.
p.s. Do read the author's note. Enlightening and enlivening!
A NetGalley ARC