Wednesday, October 1, 2014

How Courtney Milan Is Like Star Trek

I recently read Unclaimed by Courtney Milan. It is the second book in her Turner series (I had already read the first one, Unveiled).

I know that Ms. Milan does a fair amount of research for her books, but I have also noticed that she feels free to depart from that research. She also seems less familiar with the language of the era than authors who have read a lot of Victorian literature. There were a few casual malapropisms.

She is such a skilled storyteller, though, that I am able to overlook those lapses rather than being pulled from the story. I finally realized why I can stay immersed despite the anachronisms. Unclaimed is not really a story about Victorian England. It is a story about our own contemporary society told through the lens of a different era. It has a very strong message about slut-shaming and victim-blaming, and a more subtle message about the thinly-veiled misogyny in evangelical purity movements.

Why, then, does Courtney Milan not write contemporary romances instead? It is likely that many romance readers would be put off by strong social commentary about real life. That is not what most readers expect to encounter in a romance novel. However, by setting the story in Victorian England, Milan allows the reader to maintain a comfortable distance (and temper our outrage over some of the secondary characters' actions and attitudes, since those were different times) while still empathizing with the main characters and appreciating the book's philosophical lessons.

In much the same way, the writers of the original Star Trek series presented scripts about timely social issues like race relations and the rise of the military-industrial complex without incurring the wrath of the network, because it was science fiction set in the future rather than contemporary drama.

Well done, Courtney Milan.

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