In some books, a plethora of subplots distracts the reader from the main romance. However, in Unveiled, all the plots and subplots fit smoothly together to create a very rich reading experience. In some ways this book is as much about sibling love and loyalty as romantic love, and both are handled so well that it ends up being a rewarding read.
The book opens as Lady Anna Margaret Dalrymple finds herself in terrible straits. Together with her brothers, she has been declared illegitimate as the secret has come out that her father, the Duke of Parford, married her mother while already married to another woman. With the Duke now on his deathbed, a distant relation named Ash Turner who made his fortune in trade appears poised to claim the title. This relative also set in motion the events that led to the Dalrymple children losing their place in society, so his arrival at the ducal estate is not exactly occasion for celebration.
The Dalrymple brothers have left home, but Margaret remains behind, disguised as her father’s nurse. She will spy on Ash and report to her brothers any information that may assist them in their pursuit to regain their legitimacy and the family’s place in society. Margaret’s life is fairly miserable. Her dying father treats her hatefully, her fiance abandoned her upon learning of the bigamy scandal, and the doors of her former friends have closed to her. And then Ash Turner arrives – and he’s not exactly the savage interloper she expected. Margaret holds a deep loyalty to her brothers and wants them to prevail. However, Ash turns out to have good sense, intelligence, and more charm than Margaret ever thought possible.
Things between Margaret and Ash get off to an uneasy start. Though Ash knows Margaret only as a servant, she detests him for setting in motion the events that ruined her life. Ash desires the prickly Margaret and comes to trust her with secrets of his life that not even his brothers know. However, even as their relationship deepens, there remains the obvious source of conflict. After all, Ash hates and wants revenge on the Dalrymple family for how they treated his family when he was a child, and there is certainly no easy way for Margaret to break the news to Ash that he’s falling for one of the enemy.
Unveiled is one of those romances that appeals not just on an emotional level but also an intellectual one. Margaret and Ash build a relationship with a powerful emotional quality to it, but one also derives satisfaction from seeing the contrast between the Dalrymple siblings’ relationship and that of the Turner brothers. Without spoiling things, concepts such as love and loyalty play out differently in these two families. Not only do Margaret and Ash have to face conflict in their romantic life, but each also learns to look with new eyes at relationships with their siblings, and the author shows tremendous (and sometimes very moving) growth in these relationships as well.
In addition, the ways in which Milan shows what happens to those who believe in their own self-worth versus those who define themselves by others also provides some real food for thought that goes far beyond the “brain candy” that many assume romance to be. After all, instead of a helpless heroine swept away and “saved” by the hero, we get the story of an intelligent heroine who figures out by the end how to save herself. As Margaret muses at one point, Ash is dangerously seductive because he makes her aware of her own importance and worth rather than of his supposed charms – and I suspect readers will find something irresistibly romantic about that. I certainly did.
With all of these very good points, why is this book not a DIK? Well, it came very close. The writing is polished and assured, and I truly did enjoy the book. However, while the various relationships between the characters made for riveting reading, Margaret’s ruse of being Parford’s nurse went on far too long and at times seemed unbelievable enough to pull me out of the story, even if only for a brief time. Even with that minor issue, though, Unveiled is a cut above much of what one finds on shelves these days and I’ve already marked my calendar for the sequel.