Sir Mark Turner is the nineteenth century’s version of a rock star; he’s written a book about chastity that has spawned not only his own fan club but also has inspired legions of women to decide to take his virginity. It doesn’t hurt that he’s stunning, of course. Jessica Fairleigh is a courtesan who wants nothing more than to retire, and she sees seducing Mark as her way out. Securing his virginity will earn her the money she needs to get away from London and live quietly in the country for the rest of her life, even if she has to set aside her remaining morals to do it.
What a fabulous book this was. I read the entire book on a train to London, and I can tell you it was more than a little embarrassing when tears came to my eyes as I was standing in a crowded coach with a bunch of businessmen. I’m still hoping they didn’t notice, but that should give you an indication of how wonderful this book really was. My heart broke again and again for Jessica, who truly has been unfairly treated by life and the people in her life.
And Mark’s stance on chastity may have been slightly anachronistic, but I adored it. Mainly this is because he turns the question of chastity back on the men, just as we still need to today. Mark is well aware of the sexual double standard and, rather than deciding that women should be treated the same as men, he decides that men should be treated the same as women. In other words, chaste until marriage, which I think actually makes more sense for this time period. Lust itself isn’t wrong; it’s what you do with it that counts, and often that means restraining it. This is what Mark tries to espouse, and what his followers misunderstand completely. The story of how Mark came to believe this is also a good one.
Though Mark is that rare example of a romance novel virgin (although not the first I’ve come across), he’s not willing to let his virginity define himself. He just wants to make sure he’s doing it with the right woman, a woman he respects and loves and who feels the same way towards him. He knows he isn’t a saint, in short. Watching Jessica slowly recover her sense of romance and ownership of her sexual identity – sex is about her too, not just about the man – while Mark discovers everything for the first time is a surprisingly incredible experience, and for once uses the more promiscuous scenes to develop the characters amazingly well.
The only flaw in the novel was towards the end, where some irritating obstacles get in the way of the characters’ getting together. There is one particular instance which truly feels unnecessary. I also felt like Mark’s family was a wee bit too happy with a courtesan for a sister-in-law, especially given Jessica’s previous experience. A little too much fairy tale.
In short, though, Unclaimed is a stunning book that, for the most part, really blew me away. Courtney Milan is a romance author to watch, and definitely an addition to my auto-buy list.
All book links to external sites are affiliate links. I downloaded this book for free from Netgalley.