I was a little slow to warm to Proof by Seduction, mostly because of a familiar complaint with historical fiction: the characters seemed more like 21st-century people than 19th-century people. They pay lip service to the strictures of class and breeding, but they’re fundamentally not as beholden to them as Georgette Heyer’s characters, let alone Jane Austen’s. But maybe that’s a feature as much as a bug — Milan is writing for a 21st-century audience, after all. (Proof by Seduction features some very 21st-century frankness, too.)
Proof by Seduction did eventually win me over. The tension in romance novels is never about who gets paired off, it’s about how the emotionally correct pairing is legitimized in the eyes of society. In the Austen model that (I would argue) is the ur-template from which these novels derive, the economically appropriate pairing must be proven unsuitable, and vice versa, generally by a literal reversal of fortune. Milan injects some novelty into the tried & true structure; Proof by Seduction actually surprised me more than once. And it’s pretty overtly feminist for a novel in which heterosexual pairings are the expected “happy ending.”
Milan’s novel is set in London at the very dawn of the Victorian Era. Her portrayal has a bit more grit to it than Heyer’s Regency (or Austen’s), although I still found it hard to credit a description of the smells of London that omitted the obvious in favor of more pleasant and genteel odors. But in general it felt pretty well researched, at least enough to fool me. I thought the word “shag” might be anachronistic, but I looked it up, and Milan’s well within her rights to have her characters use it.
I also thought Milan did a nice job of balancing accessibility to modern readers with a little old-fashioned flavor in dialogue. I liked, for instance, Jenny’s description of the limits of her education: “I was drilled in my accent and taught just enough conversational French to start a good argument, but not so much that I would be able to do anything so gauche as to win it.”
There’s a sequel, and I’m looking forward to it.
needs more demons? no.