This is easily my favorite to date. Jane, Emily and Free are forces to reckon with, and Oliver learns how to stand up for himself, and Anjan was a surprising delight of a character. I think it'll be hard to top this one. :D
I don't recall if we've met Jane Fairfield before now, but from the instant she appears on page, she commands your full attention. She's a plus-size woman with a plus-size dowry, and she's lacking many of the social graces that refined women are expected to have. She's got terrible taste in clothes, and she speaks her mind in the most refreshing way possible. Well, refreshing for the reader. The poor subjects of her attentions will hardly find it so refreshing. But she's one of those people you find it hard to hate - unless you're asshole, like Bradenton. She does some of it by design, since she's actively trying to not get married and knows the best way to put off any man is tell him exactly what you think of him. And it works.
Until she meets Oliver. I was instantly intrigued with Oliver and his parents when I read The Duchess War, and have been trying to figure out who would make a good match for him since. Jane fits the bill, but not in the way youI would have expected. So far, Ms. Milan has been doing a fantastic job of finding love interests who challenge each other in the ways they most need to be challenged, and she doesn't have to resort to tired old tropes to do (or finds wonderful ways of poking fun at that tropes when she does use them). Oliver had it hard at Eton and Cambridge, the bastard and unrecognized son of a duke, and he learned how to compromise parts of himself in order to fit in, whereas Jane goes out of her way to stand out. Watching them circle around each other, and learning to trust in each other, was pure delightful. Ms. Milan even had me worried this might end on a cliffhanger. (It doesn't.)
Then there's Jane's sister Emily, who suffers from seizures, and their idiotic uncle Titus who really does think he's doing the best he can for her but ye gads this is why women need to be able to direct their own lives, y'all! Emily meets Anjan, an Indian immigrant who is studying law and struggling to fit in with a society that looks down on him just for the color of his skin. I thought the racism that he encounters was delicately handled, and it's shown that even those who are well-meaning can still be insensitive. They're more of a subplot here, but Ms. Milan makes takes scene they have together shine and milks them for everything she can.
On top of all this, but linked intricately to everything these characters are struggling with and learning, is Oliver's sister Free, who is determined to get into Cambridge despite her sex, and who is as resourceful as she is willful.
However, add on Sebastian and Violet and this did start to feel a little overstuffed in the back half. I'm guessing Sebastian's book will be next, but setting it up here didn't really do this story much justice and detracted from the central themes. It did serve a purpose for the Jane/Oliver storyline though.
And now I have to nitpick: Jane is not slim. The cover model is. And she's once again dressed like she's going to prom. I'm sure the publisher was picking stock photos from a catalogue rather than paying the money for their own photo shoots, but they couldn't find one plus-sized model? Not one? Really? That's depressing.