Adelaide is a young wife with a past full of scandal who has come to love a husband she was pushed into marrying to save her reputation. While at first she doesn’t care for Tristan, after getting to know the good person and even better husband that he is she falls in love with him. After years of living with guilt over the lies she’s forced to live with and the unsteady beginnings of her marriage, Adelaide’s quiet life is upset when the love of her past reappears. Instead of the expected rekindling of a lost love due to circumstance, the story took an unexpected turn, with Adelaide wanting nothing but to put the past behind her. The Maid of Milan is a story of regret and finding new love in unexpected places.
What I liked was how realistically love is portrayed. There are so many love stories where characters fall in love upon meeting with a fiery passion and continue to forge the relationship despite any of the difficulties that stand in their way. This is the kind of love I think everyone envisions, even though in reality the fire often burns out and couples end up struggling with each other’s imperfections. Adelaide and Tristan’s love for each other was born out of quiet patience and tenderness, getting to know the other person over time as passion grew between them. For Adelaide, true love started off as a compromise but became so much more. As her love grew, so did her guilt over both the past and for not sharing the same admiration at the start of the marriage. She holds her husband in the highest regard and worries about tarnishing his opinion of her.
Real love is complex. Very often, a working relationship requires compromise and learning to love, to respect, and to grow together. Sometimes in relationships you have to put aside your pride in order to make things work, sometimes you have to forgive no matter how much it hurts, and often times you just have to be brave and honest with yourself and your partner. This is the truth of love and marriage. I appreciated how the story attempted to illustrate the difference between two very different kinds of love, and how the slow and difficult kind can still last and become passionate.
“She’d hated herself for what she’d been given to believe were wicked traits. She’d been told so many times she’d been born to sin, it was inevitable she’d fulfill the prophecies.”
What I did find a little hard to believe at times were the timelines and just how convenient certain things were. I noted early on how the first wives of both Tristan and James conveniently died around the same time, and that the timing of James’ freedom from Hortense just happened to be within hours of Adelaide’s marriage. All of these little coincidences of course make every character innocent to circumstances that are out of their control at least in some way. It also seems that everyone has some dirty little secret. Everyone cheats, had cheated, or had a child out of wedlock but it’s okay because everything is justified and it’s not really cheating. That made me roll my eyes just a little.
Adelaide is an intriguing heroine, though at times I did not like how unstable her emotions were, with her thoughts often swinging wildly. Despite how intelligent, beautiful and loyal she is, she was still foolish for most of the book, trying fruitlessly to take control of her life and often just making things worse. For the most part I could sympathize with her and still did in the end, though there was one point where I just got downright mad. She had the opportunity to face her past and reveal the things that she needed to, but instead decided to cower when faced with a way out. Instead she let another person yet again take charge of everything and happily swept troubling matters under the rug. While I get that this is part of the point of her character, that for much of her life she has never been in control and has thus succumbed to a form of learned helplessness, this still bothered me. I suppose though that maybe it’s because this kind of characterization hits close to home. Despite my annoyance with her, Adelaide is a well developed character who, although deeply flawed, has some good points as well.
Many of the antagonists in the story truly are despicable, particularly Mrs. Henley, Adelaide’s mother who is easy to hate. Funny enough though, she is absolutely right in some regards as to the ugly personalities of some of the side characters. One in particular I am still pretty darn mad at for damning so many characters due to their selfishness, even with all of the coincidences and honest feelings on their side as if they are a victim themselves. This character also served as a true lesson as to how blind love can destroy everything, even the person you care about the most despite all the best of intentions.
Overall The Maid of Milan was a pleasurable read. There is a whole lot of drama to keep the story moving fast and tension high as the story progressed. I felt apprehension while reading most of the book and even though I was expecting the eventual climax, the story still managed quite a few surprises. It stands out from other historical romance novels for it’s unique cast of characters whose flaws make them pretty believable.
How much would you pay for a clear conscience?
Adelaide Leeson wants to prove herself worthy of her husband, a man of noble aspirations who married her when she was at her lowest ebb.
Lord Tristan Leeson is a model of diplomacy and self-control, even curbing the fiery impulses of his youth to maintain the calm relations deemed essential by his mother-in-law to preserve his wife’s health.
A visit from his boyhood friend, feted poet Lord James Dewhurst, author of the sensational Maid of Milan, persuades Tristan that leaving the countryside behind for the London Season will be in everyone’s interests.
But as Tristan’s political career rises and Adelaide revels in society’s adulation, the secrets of the past are uncovered. And there’s a high price to pay for a life of deception.