The Brothers Sinister, Book 1.5
Heat Factor: 19th century condoms are super sexy
Character Chemistry: They’re drawn to each other, irresistibly
Plot: Man with terrible social skills adores woman who’s nice to everyone except him
Overall: The tone is a little different for historical romance, but it’s a fun little novella
Scene: Town in the industrial English countryside. Fifteen-year-old girl has just been examined by the local doctor because she’s pregnant. Doctor and girl’s parents discuss her situation in front of her. Doctor is accompanied by a 21-year-old man about to attend medical school. Young man is permitted to accompany doctor on the condition that he observe and say nothing. Doctor diagnoses “moral decay” which will ultimately result in death and prescribes lettuce water with prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide). Young man, fully aware that the doctor is full of shit, wonders if the doctor is trying to cause a miscarriage or to kill the girl. But he’s not a doctor yet and maybe he’s full of himself, so he abides by the agreement and keeps his silence.
Scene: Same town, five years later. Young man has finished medical school and returned to take up the old doctor’s practice. He’s decided he’d like a source of regular, disease-free intercourse (as one does), so he’s looking for a wife. He’s ranked the 10 (or 11?) most beautiful women in town and has to decide what to do next. His friend recommends talking to the 11th woman so he can decide if she should be included in his considerations. He does. The young woman happens to be the girl from scene one, and she vents all her pent-up anger on the doctor and tells him to get lost. He’s immediately sunk because there’s no longer a question of 10 or 11 women, there’s only one.
Scene: Sixteen months later.
Jonas Grantham has been courting Lydia Charingford since she told him she hated his guts. (I paraphrase. A lot.) She has no idea because his courtship consists primarily of attending society meetings for the community, and she thinks he’s antagonizing her by holding her secret over her head. Unfortunately Jonas has a morbid and dry sense of humor infused with a heavy dose of sarcasm. He doesn’t present himself terribly well, and he uses his unfortunate sense of humor as a shield with Lydia. It doesn’t go well.
Jonas has been in love with Lydia for more than a year, so what’s the turning point that begins the story? Well, Lydia managed to become engaged and unengaged in the intervening 16 months. And more importantly, Jonas’s father is unwell and aging, and Jonas realizes that his father would be comforted by Jonas being settled. He comes to the conclusion that he should act or leave well enough alone. Since he loves Lydia, he acts. Also it’s Christmas and for some reason we feel compelled to find love at Christmas.
It all boils down to a bet. Jonas will take Lydia on three house calls in an attempt to show her she can’t be positive about everything. If he succeeds, he wins a kiss. If he fails… Lydia says she wants him never to speak to her again. Ouch. One feels for Jonas. Unrequited love is the pits. In addition to that, because Jonas is the only one other than Lydia’s parents who knows her secret, he has become the target of all her pent up ire. She’s projecting a lot onto him that is totally unfair just because she really needs him to be the bad guy as a coping mechanism.
Naturally, the three calls turn out to be a journey for Lydia that uncovers the level of anger and grief she still has about what happened to her while also leading her to realize that she has feelings for Jonas and that his feelings for her are sincere. But of course it’s not easy because fear from old baggage makes people do things that might be counter to their own happiness and well-being.
The Brothers Sinister was my introduction to Courtney Milan (thanks, Holly!), and I was intrigued because Milan describes the development of a sexual relationship in a healthy, super normal way. In this instance, given that Jonas is a doctor and Lydia became pregnant because she didn’t know anything about sex or reproduction, there’s a good deal of clinical talk about penises and vaginas and contraceptives. It’s refreshing… And also I struggle a little bit with the realism of it because it jars the fantasy of the romance a little bit. No doubt in real life we’d give some serious side eye to a man who’s like a typical historical hero: “I’m not going to explain anything about sex to you, naive virgin lover, I’m just going to do stuff to you and you’ll like it.” At the same time, I’m living my real life, so I don’t necessarily need books to match it. You might want to try it on for size and see how it fits.
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