Unraveled by Courtney Milan

Why I read it:  After enjoying Unclaimed and Unveiled (and Unlocked) so much, I bought this on release day.  And, may I say, what an absolute bargain at $3.99.  Also, while I’m at it, I’ll mention that ebook file is excellent and self publishers (and a few traditional publishers too) could learn from this example.
What it’s about:  (Goodreads blurb) Smite Turner is renowned for his single-minded devotion to his duty as a magistrate. But behind his relentless focus lies not only a determination to do what is right, but the haunting secrets of his past—secrets that he is determined to hide, even if it means keeping everyone else at arm’s length. Until the day an irresistible woman shows up as a witness in his courtroom…Miranda Darling isn’t in trouble…yet. But she’s close enough that when Turner threatens her with imprisonment if she puts one foot wrong, she knows she should run in the other direction. And yet no matter how forbidding the man seems on the outside, she can’t bring herself to leave. Instead, when he tries to push her away, she pushes right back—straight through his famous self-control, and into the heart of the passion that he has long hidden away…
What worked for me (or, let me count the ways I adore Smite):  Smite is such an interesting character.  Deeply wounded by his mother’s madness, he nevertheless does not regard himself as “broken”.  He actively does not want to forget what happened to him as a child.  He doesn’t want to “get over it” and put it behind him.  He does not want pity or understanding. He does not in fact, feel sorry for himself.    

There was nothing easy about Turner.  He’d fashioned himself into one hard edge.  He was all blade and no handle.  If she held him close, she’d risk being cut.

What he does want is to remember what happened to him and ensure, as best he is able, that it does not happen to someone else – his trauma has defined him (by his choice) – it has led him to the career he loves and it drives him to excellence. There is a price he pays however – nightmares, fear of enclosed spaces particularly involving water, etc.  Smite chooses to keep his nightmares because for him, they are intrinsically connected to his passion to dispense justice to others.  It is the price he feels he must pay.  

His fellow Magistrates who, for the most part, are slackers who could care less about justice (particularly if it means they need to do some actual work themselves) don’t understand him.  Ash (his eldest brother) doesn’t understand him.  Ash is a “fixer”.  He likes to come along and solve everyone’s problems.  That’s what makes him happy.  But, Smite doesn’t want to be “fixed” and there is this innate tension in their relationship as a consequence. (And, for fans of the series, we do see some resolution in their relationship in this book, as well as hear more from Mark too.)

How surprising then, for Smite to happen across Miranda Darling.  Someone who has seen “broken” and knows he isn’t it.  Someone who doesn’t judge him or try to change him. Someone who intrigues and attracts him.    Someone who will let him remain who he is.  Miranda’s “fixing” is more along the lines of smoothing Smite’s path – kind of like a translator I guess. She loves Smite for who he is and accepts his idiosyncracies with grace.  Sometimes a person will put up with something with the full intention of getting to it later, but I didn’t feel this was part of Miranda’s makeup at all.  Rather, she would take what Smite is and make it work for her but the judicious manipulation of others – people, places or circumstances.    In Miranda, Smite found a safe place to fall without it in any way unmanning him.  

Smite has a very dry (and therefore, to some of his peers, practically non-existent) sense of humour which I appreciated.  

The dog looked up in entreaty.  Liquid brown eyes begged:  Take me with you I’ll be good.

Oh , the lies that dogs told.

“Ghost,” Smite commanded, “you will stay.”

…”Ghost.  Do listen.  In the even that I need a squirrel brought to justice, I will go to you first.  Until then…”

Smite also appears to be cold and passionless/without emotion, but he is in fact, anything but.

He only loosened his grip when he feared he might not be able to let go of her at all.

 and this

He was drunk on the taste of her.  He’d been knocked off balance, and he wouldn’t be able to walk a straight line for years. 

He has a “sentimentality quota” of 30 minutes per day (no, he really does), but it is because he does not wish to become maudlin that he has set a strict limit upon it.  It is precisely because he feels so much that he has something which, on its face, is cold and unfeeling.  He is also surprisingly affectionate:

“I do have one question,” she said.

“I’m sure it’s more than one.:

“When you call me Miranda Darling, are you calling me Miranda Darling as my name, or are you saying Miranda, comma, darling?”

His hand slid down her hair.  “I don’t believe I can answer that question without endangering the sentimentality quota beyond all hope of repair.”

I haven’t said much about Miranda.  I suppose that’s because, in general terms, I identify more with the hero in a romance anyway and in particular in this book.  What I say about Miranda inextricably links to Smite.  What I loved best about her was that she didn’t try to fix or change him.    Miranda is the Mark Darcy to Smite’s Bridget Jones in that respect. 🙂

But one other thing I loved about Miranda is that she asked Smite about things.  (And, Smite talks to her too.)  There were two points in the book where it started to head in to “Big Misunderstanding” territory (which I personally hate with the passion of a thousand fiery suns) and just when I was about to groan in despair (which, with Big Mis is very early on for me), Smite and Miranda HAD A CONVERSATION.  Hooray!!

Smite is also very, very sexy.  And, quite a bit naughty.

“I want to have you very, very badly.  But as this is your first time, I’ll have you very well instead.”

or

“If your point of reference is a glimpse you’ve caught of a business transaction conducted in an alley, I’d venture to say that you have no idea what I can do with a wall.”

oh my *fans self*   I wouldn’t mind seeing what he could do with a wall…

I thought there was a rather satisfying amount of the smexxing in this book actually. 🙂

 
What didn’t:  I felt the Patron’s motivations, at least in terms of why all these things were happening to Miranda, was thin.  It seemed a bit convoluted to me – as if it were twisted to create the conflict rather than being organic.  I also thought Jeremy was weak and in need of a spine transplant – but, he needed to be I guess in order to fit the plot and it is not in any way a criticism of the author’s work that I thought Jeremy was lacking in balls – merely an observation of what I thought of him as a character. 
What else?  As much as I thought the reasoning behind the threats to Miranda was a bit odd, I did enjoy the contrasts of the Patron’s form of justice and Smite’s struggle/s with dispensing justice.  I thought it made a nice juxtaposition and highlighted many of the problems that persist today with criminal matters – balancing the needs of society and the victim against the individual (and perhaps extenuating) circumstances of the perpetrator, etc. 

I can’t say that the things which bothered me about this book greatly impacted my enjoyment of it.  Ultimately, what made the book successful for me was the romance.  I have read a few reviews where the reviewer felt that Smite fell in love with Miranda too quickly; let down his guard too soon.  But, I was happy to go along for the ride.  I was surprised when Smite confessed to Miranda his childhood trauma – it did seem a bit “easy” for someone so very closed off.  But, I think that because Miranda didn’t judge him and didn’t pity him (a very rare experience), he was more comfortable more quickly, so it made sense in my head.  

In terms of ranking, my personal favourite is still Unveiled, closedly followed by Unraveled and then closely followed by Unclaimed with Unlocked falling into last-but-definitely-not-least territory.  I really enjoyed this book.  I expect I will re-read it in the future, but my heart still belongs to Ash.
 
Nevertheless, I will leave you with another quote, and hope that Ms. Milan has a generous definition of “fair use”. 😛
“I did want that kiss,”  she said earnestly.  “It was a lovely kiss.” 

He tucked the ends of her laces in, before meeting her eyes.  “Then here’s another one.”

*sigh*
Grade:  A-

3 comments on “Unraveled by Courtney Milan

  1. Mandi

    This x 1,000 But one other thing I loved about Miranda is that she asked Smite about things. (And, Smite talks to her too.)I LOVE that she doesn't run into danger without consulting him. You hit on everything I loved about Smite and Miranda. And your dislike of Patron involvement I totally agree on too. I just thought his was such an excellent book 🙂 So smart, funny, serious, romantic. Great review!

  2. Kaetrin

    Thx Mandi. 🙂 I found it a difficult review to write. I think it can be harder to explain why one loves a book than the opposite a lot of the time.

  3. Mandi

    Yes…I always find it so much easier to write reviews for books I didn' t like so much LOL

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