The Devil Comes Courting (2021)

by Courtney Milan
ASIN/ISBN: 9798741161982
Publication: April 20, 2021
Series: The Worth Saga #3

Amelia Smith is intentionally sought out by Captain Grayson Hunter to help with telegraphic transmissions, except he doesn’t realize the genius he’s looking for is a woman. When he does, it’s not enough to deter him from trying to employ her. The problem is whether he can convince her of her value, that there is more to her future than just marriage and children.

I like how historical romances are embracing racial/ethnic diversity. Milan is one author doing this, and I have enjoyed some of her novels thus far. The Devil Comes Courting is a slow-burn romance with POC representation, and one of the highlights of the novel is the two leads. (There’s plenty more I could talk about but I’d prefer not to spoil anything.) Amelia is Chinese and the adopted daughter of an English missionary. Although she is sure her adoptive mother loves her, Amelia can’t help but also want a place to belong where she is accepted for who she is. In his willingness to employ her and to point out her current situation, Grayson offers her some semblance of what she is looking for. He is providing her the opportunity to give her life purpose beyond the one her adoptive mother wants her to choose, marriage and children. Amelia is a refreshing lead for the way her mind works. Amelia is inquisitive and curious, her mindset on tinkering and problem solving until she’s worn out whatever is on her mind. I liked Amelia and related all too well with her inability to remember names. I’m nearly as awful as she is at it. The way she relates things made me realize I’m pretty sure that’s how my brain works when I bring up seemingly unrelated things–“they were both in my head at the same time.”

Grayson is biracial of African American and white heritage. He is arrogant, immediately wanting to seduce Amelia as soon as they meet as well as proclaiming he knows how attractive he is when Amelia blurts out what is on her mind. I strained my eyes from epic eye-rolling. There is a fair amount of arrogance needed, I guess, for someone who is determined to complete such an endeavor. Grayson was easily forgiven for his belief in Amelia. Initially, it seems his belief is just to ensure he gets what he wants–her working for him–but he also recognizes the situation she is in and cares about her feelings. One of my favorite scenes is the somewhat odd questions she asks before deciding whether she wants to work for him or not. Throughout the entire book, his faith in her abilities never falters, and I couldn’t help but have heart eyes. For me, he turned swoon-worthy rather quickly. Underneath his tough exterior though is a man who carries his grief with him and believes he is unworthy of happiness. This plays a role in Amelia and Grayson’s slow-burn romance. His fickleness was irritating at times but understandable due to his situation.

There’s more than meets the eye in When the Devil Comes Courting, especially as the layers are pulled back and subplots are revealed. Readers find out the devil has appeared many times over. Some patience is warranted because it is a slow burn as the leads try to figure out and in some cases try to verbalize what it is they want. While it can get a bit frustrating with how much time they spend apart as opposed to together, their belief and support of one another is one of the highlights of the novel. I finished the novel on a high note because of their regard for one another.

The Forest of Stolen Girls (2021)

by Jane Hur
ASN/ISBN: 9781250229588
Publication: April 20, 2021

I was excited to read Hur’s The Forest of Stolen Girls. Some of my favorite dramas are set during the Joseon era so I was looking forward to reading a novel set during this period as well.

After learning about 13 girls all missing from the same village, Detective Min heads back to his old home to try to solve the case, but he also goes missing. Our protagonist is his 18-year-old daughter Hwani Min who refuses to believe her father is dead with only a scrap of his clothes found as confirmation of his death and not his body. She heads to Jeju Island to search for him.

Set during a time when women had limited agency, it was somewhat surprising that Hwani was given so much leeway throughout Jeju to search for him, but I liked the focus on strong women, especially Hwani. Hwani is a determined individual, quite stubborn actually. It’s also very clear from the beginning that she’s her father’s daughter. Throughout the book, Hwani is constantly looking over the evidence and list of suspects, trying to figure out what her father would do. She often refers to him as Joseon’s greatest detective and has lived her life trying to make him proud. Her belief in her father and her conviction that he is alive is so strong that I hoped as much as she does that he would be found alive.

While Hwani is the main protagonist, her younger sister Maewol plays a central role in the story. Their relationship is complicated because their vastly different relationships with their father. Hwani idolizes her father, whereas Maewol’s feelings are much more complicated–she is the daughter left behind. Maewol has different memories of their father, making it difficult for Hwani to reconcile what she knows and feels about her father with Maewol’s account of him. Hwani’s memory loss of a significant event further exacerbates the problem so there is a lot of tension whenever the sisters interact with each other. The focus on their relationship highlights how the story is more than just about searching for their father and solving the disappearance of girls from Nowon Village; it’s about grief and family.

The plot was interesting and well thought out. There are several red herrings throughout the book, just enough to make the reader question who the culprit might be. I read it the first time, eager to get to the ending, then I read it a second time to piece together the clues and to fully enjoy Hur’s writing prowess. It’s not just the plot, but the writing that makes this such a good read. One of my favorites is the first line of the novel, providing a hint of the beauty of Hur’s writing in the pages to come: “The screen of mist was thick around the red pinewood vessel, as though secrets hid beyond of a land I was not permitted to see.” The book is filled with vivid descriptions that make the setting and the story come alive. I would recommend this to those who appreciate a good mystery novel. Individuals who liked Firekeeper’s Daughter (2021) and are looking for another well-written mystery may enjoy this novel as well.