Over a rainy post-holiday weekend, I read – back to back – Courtney Milan’s Turner series. The series comprises three books and a novella and tells the tale, novella excepted, of the three Turner brothers, Ash (Unveiled), Mark (Unclaimed), and Smite, the hero of this novel. I found the series irresistible — taken together the books present an entrancing experience greater than that found in reading each alone. My favorite of the three is the first, Unveiled; my second, this tale of Smite and his unconventional love, Miranda Darling.
Each Turner is, in some way, an oddity. Ash is an Earl with no formal education and an inability to read; Mark, a ton darling who’s known for his treatise on and embracement of chastity; Smite, a wealthy magistrate who shuns all material and creature comforts. The three men are each acutely scarred by a childhood spent at the hands of a mother whose religious fervor devolved first into insane abuse, then into horrifying abandonment. These are books that must be read as a piece – Unraveled is firmly grounded in the brothers’ evolving relationships with one another and with Richard Dalrymple, once Smite’s closest friend and the brother of Margaret, Ash’s wife.
Ash and Mark have each found love, but, the Smite encountered in the previous books in the series seemed an unlikely candidate for intimacy. Smite is only a tad close to one person, his younger brother Mark. His relationship with Ash is strained, he lives alone with no servants, and his colleagues and those at his mercy in court see him as a zealot. He is known, unflatteringly, throughout Bristol as “Lord Justice.” Smite would be a completely solitary creature were it not for Ghost, an endearing sheepdog foisted on him by Mark. In general — there is the occasional meaningless coupling — Smite neither intimately touches nor talks to anyone.
One day he sees a young woman in his court. Smite, who has an eidetic memory, recognizes her despite the disguise she’s assumed; he’s seen her in his court before, testifying. Realizing, were she to swear to anything under oath, she’d be guilty of perjury, he dismisses the case before she can speak and, once the session is ended, goes in search of her. Once he finds her, he tells her to stay out of his court or next time, she’ll find herself Australia bound or worse.
Staying out of the courts is a problem for Miss Miranda Darling. Miranda, the orphaned daughter of a pair of traveling players, lives in the slums of Bristol in Temple Parish. Those who live in Temple Parish rely not on the King’s edict for their safety and laws, but on the Patron. Miranda, in order to protect herself and her ward Robbie, does the Patron one favor a month in exchange for her and Robbie’s safety. Miranda’s theatrical background pooled with her charm makes her an ideal candidate to play roles for the Patron. A role she’s played several times is that of an innocent young lady testifying on the part of someone the Patron wants found not guilty. When Smite bans Miranda, in all her false incarnations, from the Bristol courts, Miranda worries the Patron will be displeased with her. When she tells the Patron, whose face is hidden away on the other side of an old confessional booth in a no longer used church, of Smite’s decree, the Patron tells her she’s to continue to seek out Lord Justice.
Miranda and Smite encounter each other again, Smite follows Miranda home, and after a few days of thinking about how much she unsettles him and how deeply he wants her, he asks her to become his mistress. She, equally drawn to him, says yes. I found myself bewildered.
It’s not I didn’t believe that Smite and Miranda were strongly attracted to one another. Ms. Milan writes well about desire and passion and in this book, as in all the Turner tales, the lovers’ want for each other is credible and carnal. What I struggled with was the speed and casualness with which they acted on their desire.
Prior to meeting Miranda, Smite, as an adult, has never had a true romantic relationship or even close amative friendship with anyone, male or female. He shares nothing of himself with anyone, not even Mark. And yet within days of meeting Miranda, not only is he making love to her constantly — much of the middle third of the book is spent detailing the numerous libidinous couplings between the two — he’s telling her his secrets and his history. For her part, Miranda is a virgin who, in an early chapter, smacks Robbie across the cheek for suggesting she’d ever sell herself. Yet when Smite tells her, after they share a couple of soul searing kisses, he’ll pay her a thousand pounds to be in his bed for a month, she says yes instantly. The two go from strangers to soul mates so quickly that, as much as I enjoyed their relationship, I didn’t find it persuasive.
Despite this, the book is quite appealing. Ms. Milan writes excellent dialogue and superior steamy sex scenes. Her plot, which revolves around the identity of the Patron, is a fine one. She shows us, through her characters’ eyes, why a fair and impartial legal system for all — and not just the wealthy as was the norm in 19th century England — is necessary. The powerful discord between Smite and Richard Dalrymple is explained and resolved in a canny and compassionate way. Even the epilogue, a plot device I usually deplore, is used to good effect here.
So, yes, read Unraveled… after you’ve read Unveiled, Unclaimed, and Unlocked. The Turner books en masse are a real treat. Taken on its own, Unraveled is a flawed but fun read.