From the desk of Sophia Rose:
Already a fan of the writing style and careful historical research that is given to romances rich in well-developed characters and plots, I was salivating for this new Belles of London series. Mimi Matthews’ stories are only a recent find for me, but each has presented something fresh and exciting. I hadn’t gotten far into this first in series release to see The Siren of Sussex, an equestrian lover’s dream romance, would be no exception.
A Bluestocking on a Mission
“Evelyn Maltravers entered the dimly lit shop in Conduit Street.” (Loc 72)
With a great deal riding on her success, Evelyn Travers has a daring plan. In order to attract a wealthy husband, she must establish herself as The woman equestrian of London and has approached the best tailor to create a riding habit to surpass all others. If only she can talk the fascinating and handsome Mr. Malik, into taking a chance on her plan.
A Fashion Designer on the Rise
Ahmad Malik is struck by the dowdily dressed Bluestocking who comes to his shop. He is already taking a big gamble by designing for the courtesan riders and is on the cusp of having his dress designs noticed by high society ladies. He has six months to earn what is needed to make his own independent start with clients. His half-Indian heritage does him no favors in this regard. He really shouldn’t be taking a chance on an unknown, but observing the woman ride sent his fashion-designing imagination soaring:
“There was an inherent grace to her riding. A Feminine ebb and flow that had riveted his gaze. It was almost sensual, the way the lines of her body had been in harmony with every movement. Still and sure, with gentle hands and a quiet seat.” (Loc 581)
And so, a remarkable partnership begins. Evelyn will wear Malik’s designs as she and her gorgeous Andalusian stallion, Hephaestus, take London by storm and her trendsetting will be the making of his designs.
Unique Historical Elements and Plotting
The Siren of Sussex brings several elements into play and right in the beginning chapters. Ms. Matthews takes the familiar theme of poor, Bluestocking heroine coming to London and needing to make a successful match to save her family and gives it a tantalizing twist. Not only are the heroine and hero in something of a gender role reversal of their interests and talents, but so is their class differences with him being working class and her, a gentleman’s daughter. There is the addition of his race, starting as a tradesman in a new line of business, and her family reputation and situation to complicate their social and romantic interactions. And, due to the Prince Consort’s recent death, there is the fascination of Victorian Era spiritualism and Death Rituals added to the mix. It all became rich layers to the plot and added the tension to slowly build as the gently paced story progresses.
Clever Characters and Relationships
Evie Maltravers is a naturally gifted horsewoman, and it is truly breath-taking when she mounts her horse and rides. Up in the saddle, she is grace itself and gone is the awkward, uncertain debutante, but a confident, skilled woman who captivates. She is pleasantly surprised to encounter a handful of other young ladies of her own ilk who share her need to be something more than a pretty lady in a gown.
Ahmad is equally unique as a hero with artistic talent. He may be a tradesman, but he is just as strong-willed and determined as Evie. He faces the complexity of a man who straddles two worlds and not completely accepted in either when it comes to his heritage and chance at a relationship. Their attraction is electrifying though it remains slow-burn throughout the story as they face down many difficulties that have the potential to drive them apart. It is for intrepid Evie to say,
“But wonderful things didn’t happen because one was cautious. They happened because one dared.” (Loc 6222)
Anticipation was high, but this well-crafted, historically authentic, sensual romance of refreshing characters was dynamic. Woman equestrienne and innovative new tailor crashing the class and racial barriers with their smoldering partnership was just the right balance of conflict and romance. This is a fabulous new series for historical romance fans to boost into the saddle, get comfortable, and take it for a long ride.
5 out of 5 Stars
- “…a tender and swoon worthy interracial, cross-class romance in Victorian London…Readers will delight in this paean to women’s fashion and horseback riding.”— Publishers Weekly, starred review
- “Matthews brings the Victorian era to vivid life with meticulously researched details and an impossible romance made believable and memorable.”— Booklist, starred review
- “Matthews deftly underscores racial and gender discrimination in Victorian London in this excellent start to ‘The Belles of London’ series; rather than overshadowing, it propels the romance. Romance aficionados who love fashion and animals will delight in this tender romance and will be excited to see Evelyn’s friends in future installments.” — Library Journal, starred review
- “Unflinching, tender, and moving, the delicately crafted The Siren of Sussex might just be my favourite work from Mimi Matthews; it certainly is one of my favourite historical romance reads this year.”— Evie Dunmore, USA Today bestselling author of Portrait of a Scotsman
USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats.
- The Siren of Sussex: Belles of London (Book 1), by Mimi Matthews
- Berkley Romance (January 11, 2022)
- Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (430) pages
- ISBN: 978-0593337134
- Genre: Historical Romance, Victorian Romance
We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose.com is an Amazon.com affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Berkley Romance © 2022; text Sophia Rose © 2022, austenprose.com
Hello Dear Readers,
Have you read any of the many other novels by Mimi Matthews?
If you enjoy historical romance with witty dialogue, engaging plots, endearing characters, and swoon-worthy romance, Austenprose highly recommends them.
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Laurel Ann Nattress, editor