Rating: 4 pints of blood
I understand where they were going with the cover here. The red dress and the blonde hair are straight from the story, and the key ties in nicely with the title. I like the colour scheme a lot, but man, her nose has got to be an impressive beak for the light to fall on it like that.
Why did I pick this up? Well, I've been meaning for some time now to try Courtney Milan's writing, and when I was told this was a novella and I could pick it up for less than a dollar, I jumped at the chance. Easy on my time commitment and my wallet? Count me in!
There's been some buzz about this because this is Milan's first self-published offering. She's done some big numbers with traditional publishers before now, but when it came to her novella decided the best option was to package the thing up and publish it herself. She's taken a lot of time and care with it, and it shows. This self-published novella has more polish to it than a lot of "professionally" produced e-books.
I was surprised to find a heroine who'd been bullied. She's been bullied so hard and for so long that it's affected the way she presents herself and the way she sees herself. She's started to believe the things her bullies say about her, and she's developed coping mechanisms to get through. For anyone who's been bullied, this resonates. Elaine is not powerless, though, and while the cruel treatment of others has changed her, it hasn't beaten her. She holds her own in subtle ways, and when Evan comes to ask her to forgive him, she doesn't hide herself away from him and she doesn't just give in. She has no intention of trusting him, and if he truly wants her to see him with anything but distaste, he'll have to work hard for it. She's got a beautiful and quiet strength about her we don't see often enough in a heroine.
It's difficult to turn a bully into a sympathetic romantic hero, but Milan manages. It helps that Evan is well and truly sorry for everything he's done and has decided to man up in an effort to make amends. It also helps that he never intended to be a bully, that he essentially wanted to pull on the pretty girl's braid so she'd notice him. He's returned older and wise and determined to earn Elaine's forgiveness and her good opinion (and hopefully her love) and he will do whatever it takes to get him there.
Since it's a novella, there's really not much in the way of exterior conflict. It's really just the heart of a romance novel boiled down to its essence, telling us just the love story between Elaine and Evan, of a man who returns to fix his mistakes and basically grovel and prove himself to the woman he wronged (who also happens to be the woman he loves). It's quick and beautiful with gorgeous dialogue and characters so well developped you'll be surprised at the page count when you get to the end. How did Milan shove so much content in so few pages without it feeling overcrowded? I have no idea, but this is a novella not only worth reading, but worth re-reading.
Unlocked is available as an e-book from various vendors and in various formats. For the time being, the novella is priced at 0.99$