Close friends: "The Countess Conspiracy" by Courtney Milan

Book: The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan

Release date: December 16, 2013

Pages: 295 pages in Kindle edition (Audio version: 10 hours, 49 minutes)

Publisher: Courtney Milan

Genre/category: Romance, Historical Romance

Rating: ★★★

Sebastian Malheur is the most dangerous sort of rake: an educated one. When he’s not scandalizing ladies in the bedchamber, he’s outraging proper society with his scientific theories. He’s desired, reviled, acclaimed, and despised—and he laughs through it all.

Violet Waterfield, the widowed Countess of Cambury, on the other hand, is entirely respectable, and she’d like to stay that way. But Violet has a secret that is beyond ruinous, one that ties her irrevocably to England’s most infamous scoundrel: Sebastian’s theories aren’t his. They’re hers.

So when Sebastian threatens to dissolve their years-long conspiracy, she’ll do anything to save their partnership...even if it means opening her vulnerable heart to the rake who could destroy it for good.

This is a slow-burning best-friends-to-lovers romance that interrogates the stories we tell the world about who we are, and the stories we tell ourselves. 

Violet has come to believe that she is unlovable. She has experienced horrific trauma and never confided in anyone what she went through. She feels that she needs to justify her existence by being a useful daughter, sister and aunt, and that to seize recognition for her life's scientific work at the peril of her and her family's reputation would be unforgivably selfish.  She's managed to avoid scandal by following her mother's secret rules for moving through society.

Sebastian has also played a character. He's a beta hero who embodies the rake with a heart of gold trope. While there's truth to his womanizing reputation, we learn that there's nothing dishonorable about his dalliances. And yet, his playboy image has meant never earning the respect of his older brother, who keeps Sebastian at arm's length from his beloved nephew.

Violet and Sebastian are the closest of friends, and they start out at different ends of the spectrum of acknowledging their true feelings for each other. All the stops and starts, the doubts and declarations on the way to happily ever after made this a compelling romance. Falling in love with your best friend, hiding your love from them, being desperate for more  — that's some high drama.

"There were some boundaries that one dared not cross, and thinking about kissing one's best friend was one of them."  


This one was more of a 3.5-star read. I believe this is my first proper historical romance, and I was drawn to the feminist themes of the premise. Where it suffered for me was pacing. I'm all about drawing out the romantic tension, but I was screaming at both of the protagonists to just make a damn move already!

This was also the first time I've added Audible narration to an e-book purchase, and I highly recommend experiencing a book this way. Rosalyn Landor's performance was fantastic, and I'm in awe of how she gave each character a distinct, convincing voice. Like I've said, I had only listened to memoirs in audiobook form, so the performance aspect was new for me. And here I thought my Beavis impersonation was hot stuff.

I'm a big fan of romances in which we see the characters evolve. A big theme in The Countess Conspiracy was living a more honest life. Everything from the way feelings were brought to the surface to the question of whether Violet should continue hiding herself to save her reputation reinforced that theme.

But probably the best part of this story, now that I've had some distance, was Sebastian. He was so patient, gentle and kind to Violet even when she was cold and terrified.

Characters from the rest of the Brothers Sinister series made appearances, which intrigued me, but I don't think I loved this one enough to read the rest of them.