The Devil Comes Courting
This book is EXACTLY why Milan is an insta-buy author for me. This. And also why I would recommend her as an author to folks who don’t think they like historical romance. She hits the ball way out of the park with this one: fascinating historical details, representation of bicultural folks in history, thoughtful emotional character arcs, awesome minor character family members you want to hang out with.
You don’t need to read the other Worth Saga books to enjoy this book, but you’d miss out on a few minor references to other characters, and Milan is such a terrific writer why deprive yourself of the full experience?
We begin the book with Captain Grayson Hunter arriving in Fuzhou to find the mysterious “Silver Fox” recommended by his friend as a possible candidate for an incredible job: creating the code to convey Chinese characters across telegrams. And I could totally go off for five pages about how Milan perfectly balances the nerdy/scholarly issues of encoding radicals, characters, differences with Japanese syllabary, etc. without making my eyes glaze over. It was fascinating.
But this is a romance, and so the silver fox turns out to be someone Hunter is entirely unprepared for: Amelia, a Chinese girl who grew up in a white British family in Fuzhou and is about to be married off– sight unseen– to a white missionary.
Grayson’s offer of employment, despite a lifetime of being brainwashed into questioning her own abilities, is too tempting for Amelia to pass up, and she goes off with him.
And then Milan invents this amazingly cute and clever romantic method for them to keep in touch despite Grayson’s inability to stay in one place for more than a week….he prewrites her numbered letters and telegraphs her a number…and then she goes and reads the letter.
It’s amazingly wonderful to see how Grayson’s letters give Amelia permission to be the amazing inventor and capable woman she’s always been. Milan accomplishes the amazing feat of keeping tension alive without Amelia or Grayson ever having misunderstandings, going off on butt-hurt moping, or deceiving each other.
And don’t get me started on how Milan manages to address Amelia’s realizations about the lover her British mother shows her and her adoption…there’s so much colonialist and white savior and racist stuff here in Amelia’s backstory, but its never presented in a unilateral black-and-white.
So fascinating telegraph, laying cable in the ocean, non-Western alphabets encoding issues, intersectionality of women and race and colonialism, a super-satisfying emotional arc that doesn’t over-rely on tired tropes, and some steam. Sigh. Yes, I stayed up all night reading and was terribly sad when the story was over. Milan needs to write faster.