Trial by Desire - Courtney Milan My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...

I was hoping against hope that Ned’s book would turn out to be something amazing but came out with a lot of disappointments. The writing was good but there were lack of humorous moments I so enjoyed in Proof by Seduction. I couldn’t connect with the characters, wasn’t really interested in Ned’s monologues on his ‘dark despair’ because I thought he was just wasting time and really got frustrated how he kept on pushing Kate away, even though he’s the one who left her in the 1st place. I REALLY hate to say this but the whole book was one huge boredom for me. It was a trial for me for sure, mostly because I was very confused about the desire part throughout the book since sexual tension was lacking decidedly in it!

So, the book starts right after Proof by Seduction where we saw Kate and Ned were supposed to get married. After 3 months, Ned just up and leaves for China, just like that! He informs Kate of it the morning he leaves. Whoa! That was just clumsy and beyond rude. We saw Kate is quite attracted to her new husband, wants very much to work it and though we really get no view of their marriage in those 3 months, it seemed like Ned isn’t at all happy. All his issues were, of course, with himself. His ‘dark despair’, the bouts of seasonal depression he had since he was 19 and his constant need to ‘prove’ himself worthy/perfect for everyone. This becomes a HUGE problem for them even when he comes back from China. Kate was really hurt the way Ned left her, I would be too. I wish we had more of those three months because after Ned comes back, I had trouble connecting with whatever actually was their problem. I wasn’t even sure for sometimes if Ned actually consummated the marriage or not. Maybe it was my misunderstanding but for a while I thought he didn’t do the deed... erm. So when Ned was back and I saw no sparks between them (even though the book blurb says otherwise and Kate kept asking for it), I was a bit deflated.

3 years later, Kate now has her own life. She has a secret, which turned out to be not a big secret after all. She saves abused women, mostly by their husband. Her last attempt went a bit beyond her league, this time it’s the wife of a peer of the realm. She saved the woman, Louisa, who’s also her good friend from her husband Harcourt. Louisa just gave birth to a boy but her husband’s uncontrollable anger along with the usage of his fists hasn’t stopped. The man was nasty throughout the book. But Kate was scared not only because he was a peer of the realm but that everybody knew him as a charmingly nice guy. Kate took Louisa to a shepherd’s cottage in her estate (Ned’s one where she resides now), which she has improved for such purpose. I liked the beginning here, how she saw Ned again, who came back without informing anyone of his arrival. Ned had beard and rescues Kate from a disaster waiting to be happened on the way. Kate was in disguise, just coming back from visiting Louisa. Kate couldn’t recognize her own husband not only because of the beard but also, apparently he’s matured bodily quite well. No longer the awkward, lanky young man he used to be. But whatever it was, I didn’t think he matured in any other way for that matter.

So their days together start. So are troubles with trusting each-other. Ned was still striving for that perfection in himself and dealing with his depression by doing manual labor and forgoing almost all kinds of comfort, i.e. fire in a cold night or sex with his own wife. I liked that he was celibate in China but I was equally pissed that even thought Kate wanted it, he wouldn’t and it’s not because he didn’t want her. Most of the confusions/misunderstandings created betwen them, IMO, were not that big and I thought this book had no plot for a full novel. I’d rather read a full novel of “This Wicked Gift” from The Heart of Christmas: A Handful of Gold The Season for Suitors This Wicked Gift, which was a wonderful novella by CM. Where was the magic of that novella? So, I totally felt the book was dragging and Ned’s musings were just repetitions after repetitions of the same thing. Honestly, it gets old after sometimes!

Kate knew that Harcourt was a very close friend of Ned, so she was pretty sure that Ned would support the man instead of her. This confusion also went on for the most part of the book. Ned wanted Kate to come to him on her own and not to perform her duty. Why couldn’t Kate just grab him by the tail and show that she wants him because she really wants him and not for her duty? Why did Ned keep on thinking he isn’t worthy of her? I mean they were both perfectly nice people, wanting to work on their marriage after the way Ned bungled it but hell, I didn’t really see their problem! As I said, not a ‘real’ problem in that sense. Then, even when Ned confessed to Kate about his problem, Kate wanted to help him and Ned didn’t want any help from anyone because asking for help made him feel ‘small and incompetent’. I thought Ned’s problems were very real but wow, reading about those felt like such a baggage, especially that he kept on pushing Kate away, over and over again.

I already mentioned their sex life. When the 1st sex scene finally happened, it wasn’t anything explosive or special IMO, considering how Ned and Kate felt about the whole thing. Then, even after they had sex, I felt no sexual tension. Is it really possible? If I kinda knew how their life was together just after their marriage, I’d had some basis for comparison but without it, I had no idea how to judge as to if things are going good or bad. Ned or Kate’s musings really didn’t help in this regard. We just know that they both desired each-other, so after such long time... I don’t know I felt nothing; no steam, no chemistry, nothing. It was worse because these two were perfectly fine individuals and there shouldn’t have been any problem with some chemistry at least.

Then of course, I was distracted by Louisa and Harcourt’s problem. Kate hides it from them all, including Gareth and Jenny. Kate thought these two didn’t like her. Because of Ned’s departure and the bad times that followed her, Kate kinda isolated herself from Ned’s family. And she very carefully cultivated this image of herself; the air-headed Duke’s daughter who knows nothing but shopping and perhaps a little of hosting parties and so on. It worked just fine for her secret mission. Even Gareth thought she was useless. Harcourt comes back, over and over again, to Ned’s estate because he was very suspicious of Kate from the beginning. At first, Ned helped him search the property and look for trails. But soon, Ned finds out the truth all by himself. Kate had already warned Louisa of it. I liked the scene, the way Ned helped Louisa understand that whatever her husband does to her, it’s got nothing at all to do with the woman she is. Yah, Ned knew of Harcourt’s problem because of one fine, drunken day in their Cambridge years, Harcourt blurted out his problems as Ned talked about his own. After that, Ned and Harcourt never talked about that day again but Ned was disturbed anyway. Yet, he never suspected that Harcourt might treat his wife so badly. Anyway, Ned doesn’t tell Kate but he is impressed nonetheless. Meanwhile, Kate is still confused over if or not to trust Ned about her secret mission. Harcourt tries to harm Kate before he leaves, to get information out of her but Ned saves her. He threatens Harcourt too but the guy leaves promising revenge. From there, they pick up on their marriage (and the sex life) or so to speak. Ned comes out with some of his troubles to Kate, yet not all. He was also scared that Kate would deem him unworthy if she knew of his afflictions. Yah, it was confusing and utterly annoying!

Soon Harcourt makes trouble for them, again. Not surprising as they were expecting it but didn’t know in form he’d attack. As Ned and Kate go to London, Harcourt brings charges on Kate for abducting his wife/encouraging his wife to leave him (something like that). After she was temporarily released from jail, they go back to their townhouse and talk. Ned tells Kate that he knows of her little secret. Kate was surprised but not shocked or anything because Ned said he was perfectly ok with her work. So, again, what was the problem, hmm? Ned goes to bring Louisa back to prove Kate’s innocence. On his way back at night, he has an accident and breaks his leg. What I couldn’t believe that with a broken leg (his horse, I believe, landed on his leg briefly before it ran away) he walked on for 5 miles (his ego on proving himself ‘worthy’) and brought Louisa back to London the next day while Kate’s trial. REALLY? The whole thing was solved soon as the case was dismissed against Kate. Yet Kate, looking at Ned’s disheveled state, couldn’t even guess that he has broken a leg or he’s doing really poorly or even that he’s in pain? Is that at all possible?! After that, when Kate wanted to help him and tried to make him see that taking help doesn’t mean he’s incompetent, he still wouldn’t co-operate and in the process, hurts Kate again. He tells her what in reality happened in China (to make her understand how unworthy he truly is!) while he was working for Gareth, that he was so depressed he was considering suicide. It should’ve been gripping but Lord, I had lost all my interest in the book by then, just flipping through it. After much thought, Kate does something else to salvage her marriage but I couldn’t believe that her ‘little talk’ made Ned see reasons he didn’t throughout the book. Right!

There was a little drama taking place afterwards, in a ball, to prove to the Lord Chancellor that Harcourt was brutalizing his wife but I didn’t care much for it. This thing already distracted me enough from Kate and Ned’s story, when it should’ve been them working on their own personal issues.

The ending was ok, showing that Ned is trying to come to terms with his troubles and live life to the fullest through all those, with Kate’s help of course. I don’t know because I wasn’t convinced there’s a HEA for them. I think there’d always be trouble because Ned would never be cured of his problem. And if he kept doing what he did throughout the book, I don’t see how they could be happy together! I am very unhappy because with such premise, if the plot was good with a strong storyline, it could’ve been a great book IMO. Ned was a very ‘real’ character yet an unusual HR hero while Kate was already an interesting heroine. But, CM couldn’t really utilize their potentials to the max.

3 stars, essentially for the writing. Also because as characters, I liked Ned and Kate. Definitely loved reading about Gareth and Jenny. I think I’ll give the Turner series a try.


Want to have a good laugh? Read Mr. Milan’s review of Trial by Desire here! Heehee. :p