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I haven't posted in ages, I know (though I've still being reading my flist religiously, I promise). Other things I haven't done in ages: written & completed anything not for school or read books (as opposed to fanfiction).

In the last week, however, I've been on a romance novel kick, specifically a historical romance novel kick. It started, really, because it occurred to me that having been following Courtney Milan's tumblr for ages, and having been charmed by her commentary both on the Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Supreme Court oral arguments, I should really read her books.

That isn't to say I haven't read her books before -- I'd read Proof by Seduction and Trial by Desire, and they were fun and I'd enjoyed them, but they hadn't particularly inspired me to read through every book she'd ever written.

Since then, however, she's written a few more books. And since her The Governess Affair was available in Kindle format at my local library, I checked it out last week. And absolutely fell in love (seriously probably the most consensual sex I've ever seen in a romance novel; also I felt like the hero in this historical romance novel had a better grasp of the importance of consent in sex than 90% of modern-day men).

Since then, (because I had her other books on hold and couldn't get ahold of them yet), I tore through pretty much every book Julia Quinn ever wrote. (Seriously. I haven't read the Smythe-Smith books, or her oldest ones, but I've read most of the others.) And I loved those books, really, but when you do read upwards of 20 books by the same author in the space of a week, all in the same genre, you do start getting tired to certain romance novel tropes fairly quickly.

I was a bit worried that I was getting burned out on historical romance novels, but I was also almost out of Julia Quinn, and still waiting Courtney Milan, and what I really really really wanted was to read the sequel to the Governess Affair (which, btw, for anyone interested, is available for free on Amazon, the Google Store & the Apple Store, to name a few places, probably because it is a novella and is intended to get you interested in the rest of the series), which did not happen to be available at my local library.

So then I bought the Duchess War off Amazon.

It is actually the first ebook I've bought off Amazon, though I've had my Kindle for years. To now, I'd primarily been reading books in the public domain (I will tell you later perhaps of my unabashed and bizarre fondness for certain historical morality tales about impossibly good heroines along the lines of Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, etc.) as well as downloading fanfiction off AO3. (The download as ebook function of AO3 is the primary reason I've almost entirely abandoned fanfiction.net, despite the fact that ff.net simply has a greater quantity of fanfic, especally in comparison with AO3's paltry numbers of fic in anime fandoms.)

But this one compelled me enough to buy it, even though I rarely buy books I haven't read because they almost invariably disappoint me and if I'm going to spend money on something, I'd like it to be something I reread obsessively, rather than something I'm disappointed by.

This is without a doubt the best purchase-of-a-book-I-haven't-read-yet that I've made in a long while, possibly that I've ever made.

Every complaint I've been having about the historical romance genre? Totally addressed. In addition to a fabulous plot and a fabulous romance, there were:

- canonical lesbians (well, technically, they were almost-canonical, or as-good-as-canonical, but they more canonical than Madam Vastra & Jenny at the time of their first appearance, and really, if your grand-niece who has lived with both of you for over a decade thinks that you two are lesbian lovers, that's pretty close to canonical)
- imperfect sex scenes (okay, so there were multiple orgasms and the hero had a remarkably impressive refractory period, but it was still far more realistic than the majority of romance novels, historical or otherwise, which leads me to ...)
- novel sex scenes (in that they were different from the typical insert-tab-A-into-slot-B scenes you get in most romance novels; novel as in innvoative or original, not in that they were novel-length, although that might have been nice)
- sexy sex scenes
- multiple sex scenes (yes, the hero and heroine get to have explicit sex more than once - more bang for your buck)
- implicit discussion of consent in sex
- explicit discussion of women's rights, class issues, and labor rights in a non-heavyhanded manner
- genre-savvy romance-inhibitors who reference Pride & Prejudice's Lady Catherine
- lines like "But if eyes were windows to the soul, hers had been bricked up to avoid taxation," which may not make sense out of context but utterly delighted me
- a heroine who actually masturbates, and doesn't have the whole "I don't know what sex is or how it works" thing going on
- a hero who is a virgin!
- the only time anyone says "It's so big!", it's affectionately mocking, and an explicit parody of sex scenes
- the heroine has a secret past (which, by the way, is my big narrative kink -- if your hero or heroine has a secret, especially if it s a secret past, I am already 90% of the way to being sold)
- minor characters have secrets! And complex character development! And granted, most of them minor characters with interesting personalities will probably star as major characters in later books in the series, but I am ALREADY EXCITED about those books
- FAMILIES OF CHOICE & FAMILIES OF BLOOD (I have this big thing where I really love "families of choice" in fiction but I also personally have a lot of probably-Confucianism-derived "families of blood" feelings and this has lots of tear-jerking and/or heartwarming scenes with both!)
- IIRC, every single kiss scene is absolutely consensual -- which sounds like a low bar until you realize how many romance novels default to the "the hero just couldn't control himself"/"the heroine was swept away by passion"/"he pounced"/"she tried to struggle but couldn't help but melt in the kiss"/similar scenes that not only make my roll my eyes at their cheesiness, but also frequently make me wish the heroine knew her own mind in more novels -- she doesn't have to always know her own mind, or know her own mind in all novels, but it'd be nice if she did in at least a third of them
- the hero jokes about how he is not very good at saying dashingly romantic things at critical moments
- a heroine who is PRACTICAL, and even when she makes the romantic choice, she does so PRACTICALLY
- believable obstacles to the romance that do not prevent it for so long that I get frustrated and throw the book at the wall (fortunate, because I'm pretty sure my Kindle wouldn't survive being thrown at a wall the same my books do) (also, this can be summarized as "misunderstandings are resolved within a reasonable length of time")
- canonical pish-poshing of the whole "annulment of marriages if not consummated" thing
- nobody pulls that "I can't control myself because of my sexual urges" bullshit that I found cute/romantic as a kid and now find ... kinda gross?

And this is just what I can think of off the top of my head. I absolutely adored the romance heroine (though to be honest, her character was practically written for me - she had a secret past, a secret personality, and secret badass strategizing, and this is not even bringing up her intelligence, practicality, and common sense), I found the hero charming, and his struggles heartbreaking, I loved all the minor characters, I loved that Serena & Hugo from Governess Affair showed up, I loved the application of chess strategies to real-life strategies (though I admit that I had some doubts about the actual usefulness of chess applied to real life, the books was very convincing).

This was a very genre-savvy romance, and all the best characters had modern sensibilities, usefully. I read an interview where the author remarked, I think, that part of the point of fiction is that it is fiction, and if we can't find decent non-sexist men in romance novels, even historical romance novels, what is the point? I mean, that's not even close to what she said, but that was my takeaway. So if the hero was a crusader for social justice and used his noble title to secretly fight for the rights of workers ... it was cute.

This was a book where I stopped frequently to read lines out loud to my empty room and cackle with glee, as opposed to a book where I skimmed through to get to the sex scenes, or skimmed through to get past the sex scenes. This book was absolutely adorable, I am so glad I bought it, and I desperately want to read the next one though I may wait a week before purchasing it, in fear that if I bought it immediately, I might well spend far too much money in the coming days on an uncountable number of books that I'd always been meaning to read.

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