Thursday, 29 December 2011

104. "Unraveled" by Courtney Milan

Publisher: CreateSpace
Page count: 274 pages
Date begun: December 19th, 2011
Date finished: December 20th, 2011

Unraveled is the third and final novel in Milan's trilogy, and can be read independently from the others, but to get full enjoyment out of it, as several minor unresolved story threads introduced in the previous two books, are resolved in this one, I would recommend reading books 1, Unveiled, and 2, Unclaimed, first.

The three Turner brothers had an awful childhood. They all have dreadful names, basically long verses of Scripture, because their mother was deeply religious, and their father was not around to stop her from naming them whatever the heck she wanted. Nor was he there to protect his children from the abuse they suffered from a woman who was clearly crazy. All three men have psychological and emotional scars, which affect them in different ways. Despite their awful past, two of the Turner brothers found love and happiness in the previous books in the series. In Unraveled, it`s the middle brother, Smite's turn.

Smite (trust me, the line of Scripture he's named for is too long to be quoted here) possibly had it worst of the three boys. His eldest brother, Ash, left to make money to support his family, and Smite protected his younger brother, Mark, from the worst of their mother's crazy excesses. Cursed with a photographic memory, he is unable to forget any of the things he endured, although as an adult he puts his perfect recollection to good use as a judge in Bristol. His accurate memory for all the laws and his strict, but coldly fair judgement have earned him the nickname "Lord Justice".

Because of his perfect recall, he recognizes Miss Miranda Darling the minute she sets foot in his courtroom, disguised as a farmer's daughter, bearing witness in a minor case. As she appeared with a different name and appearance nearly a year earlier, Smite knows she is risking perjury, and he follows her home after the session in court. He warns her never to bear false witness in his courtroom again, or he'll make sure she's thrown in jail. Miranda's worried, as the reason she is pretending to be other people and witnessing in minor felony cases, is that she's made a deal with the shadowy underworld figure known as the Patron, who tries to secure justice for the lower classes in Bristol (most of the judges are not as law-abiding and principled as Smite).

Miranda is struggling to make a living by making and selling wigs. She's also supporting Robbie, a young boy who was abandoned with the acting troupe of Miranda's parents. While Miranda's childhood was a happy one, her life changed when the acting troupe fell apart due to her father's crushing depression after her mother's death. Trying as best she can to keep Robbie out of trouble, and away from a life of petty crime, she has to take the occasional "acting job" on behalf of the Patron. Now that Smite has proven that he can recognize her no matter what she's wearing, wigs and all, she wants to change her arrangement with the Patron, but this proves more difficult than she thought.

Smite is seen as cold, odd and unfeeling by everyone around him, and seems to care only for his dog. Yet he feels drawn to Miranda, and as his life seems brighter and more bearable when she's around, he proposes an arrangement that can benefit both of them.

Of all of Milan's Turner brothers, damaged and vulnerable in different ways, Smite was absolutely my favourite. He's plagued by recurring nightmares, can't bear the sound of running water (his mother nearly drowned him once), he can't stand to have his face touched, and he allows himself a maximum of 30 minutes of sentimentality per day. No wonder the world sees him as a cold, unfeeling automaton, dedicated only to justice. Miranda refuses to be scared by Smite, and quickly realizes that there is a lot more to the man than his ceaseless pursuit of duty. She refuses to take him seriously, and teases and berates him in a way only his brother Mark has ever dared. Miranda may have been raised by actors, but she is still rather innocent. Intelligent, witty, resourceful and adventurous, she accepts Smite's offer to become his mistress, both because he offers her a sum that will secure her for life, but mostly because she's strongly attracted to him.

This is my absolute favourite of the trilogy, and once again, Milan impressed me by having the characters communicating openly and honestly with one another. There are no big misunderstandings, or lies to protect the feelings of someone else, or going behind someone's back. Miranda and Smite are a wonderful couple, and it was good to see a resolution to the whole story. Highly recommended - Milan is now on my pre-order list.

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