Love stories are going to get me through this crazy year. Outside, the country may be losing its collective mind, but in here it’s warm and cozy and imperfect people still get happily ever afters. Courtney Milan’s books have become my new favorites because of how she incorporates real issues from history. It makes me feel like I’m getting an escape, without a guilt hangover afterward for wanting to disengage. Social class struggles, women’s suffrage, lady scientists, evolution—it’s all in there and it’s all awesome. And unlike a lot of series I’ve read, each book is better than the last. (Needless to say, I have high hopes for the fourth and final installment I just bought in audio!)

If too-good-to-be-true, perfectly beautiful, socially demure ladies are your jam, these books might not be for you. Milan’s characters buck stereotypes and challenge their men and the world around them at every turn. In The Heiress Effect, Jane is a big, curvy girl with ostentatious taste in fashion and a sizeable dowry that makes her a target of all manner of unsavory individuals. A relationship with an up-and-comer in government who is also the bastard son of nobility seems impossible, but…well, you know in Romance World, nothing is impossible.

In The Countess Conspiracy, Violet is a botanist and an expert on reproduction and inheritance, but as a woman she isn’t allowed to present her theories herself. For years, her best friend Sebastian has published her work as his own (and since evolution is such a scandalous idea in 1867, his speeches often result in vegetables being thrown at his head by crowds of angry skeptics). Will Violet ever be able to take credit for her groundbreaking work—and will she be able to overcome the painful baggage in her past and admit her true feelings for Sebastian? Swoon!

In both books, the male leads love their ladies because of their oddness, not in spite of it. Neither Jane nor Violet fits easily into polite society, but both are fiercely intelligent and loyal. Finding someone who loves you for you and doesn’t want to file off your rough edges, that’s the dream, isn’t it? Well, that, and discovering the chromosome.

Find it at your library!

The blog has been quiet this month, and that’s because I was busy frantically reading THIS SERIES, which I couldn’t wait to blab about but forced myself to wait until I’d read all four books. Which took a while, because even though this is YA fantasy and therefore the print and margins are generously sized, each volume is over 500 pages, and sadly (very sadly) I can only stuff so many pages into my face per day (although trust me, book four was so suspenseful I seriously tested those limits).

You know how some women jokingly refer to themselves as “football widows” when NFL season hits? It doesn’t have the same ring, but the Seven Realms series turned Adam into a Book Widower. I’m sure he’s glad I’m back. Especially because all I can seem to talk about are these books. Just what he wants to hear! Incoherent ramblings about books he’s never read! I’m a prize!

I can’t help it, though—I haven’t been this invested (in love? I’ll neither confirm nor deny) in characters since I don’t know when. There was so much freaking danger everywhere! It was terrifying! I read the entire fourth book (the best and most utterly devastating of the bunch) with my heart in my throat. I didn’t trust the author not to pull a George R. R. Martin and ruthlessly kill off my favorites. Which ones were my favorites, you (didn’t) ask? Why, I’ll tell you (but the answer is pretty much all of them except the super-evil ones):

Raisa – Heir to the throne, destined to be queen someday but has a lot of toughening up to do before then. Fortunately she’s up to the task.

Amon – Raisa’s BFF since they were tiny, now following in his father’s footsteps and serving on the Queen’s Guard. One of those strong, silent, super-noble types with deep principles (and skilled with a sword!). Swoon.

Dancer – Full name Hayden Fire Dancer, grew up in the clans and has all kinds of awesome skills he doesn’t even know about at first. Loyal friend, and in my opinion totally underplayed. I’d read a book about just him and love it, is what I’m saying.

Micah – Wizard from a snobby family, from the same mold as Draco Malfoy. Except more complex than that. What are his true motives? How far will he go to get what he wants? And what does he want, exactly? Who knows!

Han Alister – Thief and streetgang leader with a heart of gold. But might also be a murderer? Either way, right or wrong, he stole my heart (he is a thief after all—snort), and I’m not usually into blondes, so.

I was going to try to do a little plot summary here, or at least set up how the first book opens so you kind of know what you’re getting into, but it didn’t work out very well. It’s a fantasy set in a far-off land where a bunch of people, magical and otherwise, battle for control of the throne. See? That could describe so many books out there, it doesn’t seem special. What sets the Seven Realms series apart are the characters—that’s what it was really all about for me.

These books are everything I want—detailed worldbuilding that’s worked in organically with the story, court intrigue with shifting alliances and constant plays for power, complex but ultimately super-lovable characters, serious external conflict instead of silly problems manufactured by the characters themselves just to drive the story, and (of course) juuuuust enough romance to keep it interesting. No one’s flinging their bra off a rooftop here (did the characters wear bras, since it was kind of a medieval setting? I am going with no). But you could cut the sexual tension with a knife! My favorite kind of sexual tension, cut-able.

Inhaling all four of these books back-to-back was so nearly a perfect reading experience that I’m a little afraid to read the spin-off trilogy. I don’t want anything to ruin this for me. Maybe I’ll wait a while and just bask in the glow.

I think it’s safe to say my aversion to series fiction has been finally and definitively cured.