I've been in a bit of a dissatisfied mood with nearly every new book I've picked up lately, but Courtney Milan has never disappointed me. I realized I had one of her books in my review pile and eagerly dove into the Brothers Sinister series. I had read The Governess Affair back when it was first released, and I loved it - highly recommended; now I was hoping that I could fall back into the wonderfully described world and meet more incredibly realized characters here.
I made a good choice. Finally. The Duchess War made me chuckle from the very beginning. I knew immediately that I was going to like these characters, that I'd end up loving them.
Robert Blaisdell, the Duke of Clermont, is the son of the antagonist of The Governess Affair. As such he's spent the majority of his life trying to use his father as an example of what not to be. His father used and abused people, hurting and discarding on a whim; Robert chooses to take care and try to help - in fact he feels it's his duty to serve those that may not have the same privileges as himself. A radical idea at the time, or even now amongst some. He gets tongue-tied, is honest, and beautifully direct. More than once his dry humor and lack of artifice made me smile, grin and laugh.
Minnie on the other hand is full of strategem. She's intelligent, strong, reserved, cunning, vulnerable, and a realist. She has had her dreams ripped out of her and refuses to entertain the notion again. She's just so incredibly clever. She doesn't like using her cunning against anyone else, but she knows that it might be the only defense she left at some point. I loved her no-nonsense attitude, the way she faced things head-on and tried to make the best decision available. There were times when I was like her best friend, urging her to reach a little higher, to look up, but I came to understand why she couldn't either. That she was who she was, regardless of it all, made me admire her so much more.
The secondary characters here are just as vivid. From Sebastian and Oliver, Robert's family - his fellows in the Brothers Sinister; it's amazing to watch the three of them together, or in pairs. The commradarie, the friendship between them filled with jokes and support and obvious affection. Violet, another childhood friend, was wonderful. A strong woman, able to not only hold her own against three strong men, but challenge them. I loved her immediately. There were many others, and I can't wait to see more of them in the coming books.
I won't speak too much about the plot, mostly because I find it hard to find a lot to say about it. It was the characters that really were the story for me here. The plot was the events that drove the characters and didn't register as important to me. I did find it interesting though, the thought of what Robert was trying to do, Minnie's history, how all the players were acting and reacting. But for me, it was all about the characters.
Courtney Milan is one of those few authors that is a go-to for me. Her writing is always strong, her sense of history is impeccable, and I absolutely love her characters. Not to mention that Ms. Milan takes the conventions of the genre and subverts them so beautifully and naturally that I wonder why the conventions are the norm anyway. The Duchess War was a joy for me to read precisely because of each of these.