Mrs. Martin's Incomparable Adventure
Courtney Milan’s latest offering in the Worth Saga series is the novella Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure. In it, the author offers something the romance world is sadly lacking – a romance between an older couple. And by older I don’t mean forties and fifties – I mean sixties and seventies.
Seventy-three-year-old Bertrice Martin is a wealthy widow who has been feeling lonely and out-of-sorts since losing so many friends (and a lover) recently. Violetta Beauchamps (aged sixty-nine) is impoverished, unmarried and newly unemployed. She has worked as an assistant to a property manager for many years and is looking forward to a pension when she retires – which disappears when her boss finds an excuse to fire her. In desperation she plans to fund her retirement with a small lie. The worst tenant at the building she previously managed is two years in arrears with his rent, and she plans to go to his aunt (Mrs. Martin), tell her that she, Violetta, actually owns the building the nephew is renting a room in and demand payment – and keep that payment as her pension.
Mrs. Martin abhors her nephew – the “Terrible Nephew” and has no plans to bail him out. But she will pay Violetta the same amount if she helps Bertrice kick the Terrible Nephew out of his rooms and promises to never lease to him again. A deal is struck and the two head to London to oust the nephew. What follows is a few weeks of Bertrice and Violetta wreaking havoc in the Terrible Nephew’s life and an awakening attraction and love between them.
I am in two minds with this novella. First, I absolutely love the premise – two mature ladies out to make a good-for-nothing man pay for his crimes against them in particular and womanhood in general. And they have a wonderful time doing it. There are hilarious passages where Bertrice harangues her Terrible Nephew and men at large. When Violetta suggests the Terrible Nephew is at his club, Bertrice responds:
Gentlemen. In a club. All squashed together. How odious. I cannot believe it is allowed.
Of course it is allowed. They make their own rules. They make ours as well. In any event, I see it more in the light of putting all the cockroaches in one jar.
Violetta and Bertrice have both been sorely betrayed and abused by men and their anger is justified. However, I found their methods to be questionable. I kept feeling as though Bertrice was walking too close to the line with her revenge and that the nephew was going to win in the end because of Bertrice’s risky choices. Some of Bertrice and Violetta’s actions could easily be viewed as “deranged” – especially by an all male judiciary system. And short of a last minute save from Violetta, the Terrible Nephew almost does win. I felt like Bertrice was too savvy to get this close to losing everything.
The romance between the pair is more of a side note than part of the plot. The passages about how our sexual value and desirability should not be defined by age were all very poignant and on target. But we don’t get to see much of how the romance between Bertrice and Violetta develops. I think this is part of the curse of the novella – it’s hard to get everything fleshed out. I would have preferred less man-bashing and more romantic development.
All that aside, I think Ms. Milan has brought something fresh to the field of historical romance. It would be terrific to see this work encourage other writers to expand their pool of interesting, fun, sexy characters to include those over the age of fifty. And it would be lovely to see more lesbian romances too. I’m giving Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure a recommendation because I think some readers will enjoy the humor and Bertrice’s unique views on men. If you are looking for a well-developed romance though, it may not be for you.
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