Proof by Seduction (Hqn)

Proof by Seduction - Courtney Milan I genuinely liked this story far more than I could have ever expected coming into it. While it had some caveats in its progression, "Proof by Seduction" has a strongly asserted cast, tone, and genuinely amusing and challenging encounters that drove the story throughout, in addition to its sweetly and passionately asserted romantic moments. Courtney Milan has a powerful command over her character personalities, dialogue and plot progression, and it's difficult to not fall into the sentiments here.Jenny is a young woman who portrays the "role" of Madame Esmeralda, a fortune-teller whom has told lies for most of her working life to make a living in England during the 1830s. It's when one of her regular visitors, Ned, brings his skeptic cousin Gareth that she finally meets someone who challenges her role very aggressively. He'll do whatever it takes to prove her a fraud, while she'll do everything it takes to prove that he's flawed in his methodical approach. But in proving their commands over each other, it's more or less about what they don't see in each other that makes them both with burns in aftermath of battling wits. That premise had me hooked from beginning to end of this book, and I appreciated how well it was treated throughout the work.What also makes this story charmingly different from its peers is not only the amount of attention given to each of the main cast and side characters (Ned and Gareth's sister Laura included), but also how vivid their reactions and sentiments unfold with respect to the events in the work. Jenny has the perfect blend of witty strengths and life insecurities to make her character easy to follow and believable. Gareth has some of the same issues but from a variant angle based on his well-to-do background and experiences. While equally flawed, the two MCs have the right amount of balancing strengths between each other to play off against each other, and ultimately in the battle of opposites, one can tell they're well matched for each other.The way Milan weaves natural humor and relies on dialogue to drive some of the actions/reactions home is very well done. Granted, that doesn't mean that some of the sequence events aren't slightly drawn out or somewhat predictable in spurts. I figured out a little toward the ending how it would play out, but not so much that I'd take away from what the story did in its overall journey - brought a smile to my face and won me over for what it aimed to do from its beginning - tell a budding romantic tale from the perspectives of the characters and their conflicting encounters.More on the caveats - those who are looking for setting that immerses them into the periodic setting of 1830s England would probably not find much to pull from here - but arguably one could say this is more about the characters and their interactions within the given setting. I think the overall story probably could have had more potency if this immersion had greater exploration. Another caveat - the story does tend to drag its feet in spurts. The diction of the work is fine, but there are scenes where the plot hovers a bit too much in an event, to the point where I found myself saying it could have taken itself in/out of transitions much sooner. I would be hooked into an event, but it would be a bit before the next propelling hook would jump out at me. I guess one could say there were parts where the pacing of the plot itself was rugged. If focusing mainly on the characterization, one wouldn't see that, but looking back over the plot sequence, I could see parts where it didn't work as well as it could have.Last thing for me to critique: character depth. While the actions/reactions are solid and the actual amount of character depth for these characters is above most contemporaries, for the thematic - there could have been further delving with respect to the backstory.Overall, I really enjoyed this story and would recommend it to fans of the genre and those looking for a light, sweet read.Overall rating: 3/5