The Heiress Effect
by Courtney Milan, historical (2013)
Courtney Milan, $12.99, ISBN 978-1490994710


Jane Fairfield is the Feather Heiress. Yes, she is an heiress, and her dowry is huge, but she is so obnoxiously airheaded and she wears such ghastly outfits around town that everyone treats her like a spectacle to gape at. The whole thing is a front, though. Jane is the usual smart, determined, spirited, et cetera heroine who pretends to be what she is at the moment for the sake of her sister Emily.

You see, while Jane has her own money and therefore has some degree of independence, Emily is still under the care of her guardian who views Emily's condition - she has epilepsy, which is still poorly understood back in those days - as an excuse to keep her confined to her room and subject her to various painful treatments. If Jane doesn't get married and Emily turns twenty-one in a year or so, they'd both be free of that obnoxious guardian.

Jane's Feather Heiress act ruffles some feathers, heh, including a titled dude who wants Jane humiliated and run out of town. This fellow charges our hero Oliver Marshall to do the deed. In exchange, he'd give Oliver his vote for the Reform Bill. Oliver, the bastard son of a duke, has political ambitions, and if he gets this vote, he'd get plenty of credit and cachet for getting the Bill passed. But at what cost?

I have to get this off my chest first: I think the set-up of this story is too silly for words. What, the well-moneyed Jane just can't take her sister to some "treatments" abroad until Emily turns twenty-one? Her whole deception seems so unnecessarily complicated. Given how easily Oliver unmasks her and how easily she reveals her story to not only him but a few other secondary characters as well, I can only wonder she managed to pull off her act for that long. I'm told she forced herself to do what was necessary while keeping her emotions in check, but what I see is a heroine who seems a bit too emotional to do what she did.

The Heiress Effect follows the same... trend, if I can use the word, as the author's previous few books. The story seems like another "hero fixes heroine's problems" story, but in reality, it's the other way around. The heroes - Emily also finds a beau - have a tendency to think that they are the most affected person in the world and there is no way any mere woman can understand what they are going through, so of course they act like they know what is best for the women. Eventually Oliver realizes just how wrong he is, and how he has to get his act together before he gets his happily ever after.

This aspect of the story is actually very well done. Jane and Oliver have some really good chemistry here, and they connect in a manner that really resonates with me. While the author still has the tendency to have the characters talk about their feelings like they are psychiatrists in training, I don't find these moments as heavy-handed as I used to in the past. Either I'm used to this by now or, as I'd prefer to think, the author is getting better at being subtle. Still, she could trust me a bit more to understand what makes her characters tick instead of having those characters explain in full technicolor their angst and motivations and what not to me. That's just another way to telling me instead of showing, when showing would have worked better.

Back to the whole epiphany of the hero, while the vehicle for the epiphany is more sentimental than I usually expected from this author, it really works. I actually choked up a bit reading that scene, and in that moment, I really believe that Oliver is going to be fine.

Oliver is the more interesting character compared to Jane. Jane is pretty straightforward, but Oliver has some interesting facets to his personality. He has his share of realistic strengths as well as flaws, which makes him a pretty human character.

The secondary romance between Emily and an Indian - a Bengali - law student is a very nice surprise as I didn't see that one coming at all. This one is a sweet romance that almost steals the story from Jane and Oliver because Emily's pain is far more real than Jane's silly Feather Heiress thing. Her relationship with the fellow develops in a heartwarming manner that makes me sometimes wish that Jane and Oliver would go away so that I can continue to read about these two.

I feel that, at the end of the day, The Heiress Effect is an uneven read. I do like the fact that the author succeeded in showing me that romance isn't about who deserves who, but rather, it should be a relationship built on mutual respect. Getting there can be rough, though, as there is a shaky premise and perhaps too many extraneous elements (feminism, social reforms, medicine, family drama, crazy uncle drama, attempted kidnap drama...) than necessary. The fact that it still makes me choked up inside here and there, and I think I even shed a tear or two, is more of a testament of just how easy it can be for the author to get her storytelling hooks into me.

Rating: 87


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