This is not entirely the book that I expected it to be. From the cover text, I thought the conflict was going to rest on Sebastian's desire to give up presenting Violet's work as his own and Violet's need for somebody to be the face of her work in a time when she could not present it for herself. In fact, Violet does not particularly fight Sebastian when he says he can't do it any more, although it takes a while before they come up with a plan for her to present it for herself. The conflict is more about Violet's belief that she doesn't have any qualities that make her worthy of love. This is not my favorite trope of a romance novel, probably because I've seen it done too many times unconvincingly. If it has ever been done right, what Violet went through with her late husband is it, but that can't entirely undo how tired I am of it.
But I can forgive that, not only because at least this is an example of the trope done well, but because of everything else in the book. I love friends to lovers stories, mainly because I've lived one, but even though I know it's absolutely possible for two friends to fall in love, I also wonder if stories about women eventually falling in love with men who have been their friends forever are actually encouraging more angry self-dubbed Nice Guys who think that it is totally unfair that women whose friends they pretend to be don't want to have sex with them. But if ever there were a friends to lovers story that didn't encourage the belief that it's unjust "friendzoning" for a woman only to want to be friends with a man, this is it. When Sebastian thinks that Violet wants to remain friends only, he makes it absolutely clear that he doesn't consider friendship any less valuable than love. He does tell her that he loves her, and not platonically, but he's also the one who says that they will go on as friends as they always did until she admits that she returns his feelings. I also love beta heroes, and Sebastian is the perfect beta hero, whose main ambition is making people happy and who has quite a talent for it. He lets Violet decide exactly what she wants their relationship to be, and if she's not thinking clearly he refuses to take advantage. There is a line involving her future prospects in the last chapter before the epilogue that sums up why I love Sebastian perfectly, but Courtney Milan's dialogue is so brilliant that quoting it feels like a spoiler, even though it doesn't reveal anything you wouldn't know from the back cover. And when, near the end of the book, the two come into conflict on how a crisis should be resolved, they don't fight over it in order to have a late chapter reconciliation; they each do what they need to do, and understand why the other one wanted to do what they did.
I can hardly wait for The Mistress Rebellion.
Overall Grade: A-