Evelyn Maltravers understands exactly how little she’s worth on the marriage mart. As an incurable bluestocking from a family tumbling swiftly toward ruin, she knows she’ll never make a match in a ballroom. Her only hope is to distinguish herself by making the biggest splash in the one sphere she excels: on horseback. In haute couture. But to truly capture London’s attention she’ll need a habit-maker who’s not afraid to take risks with his designs—and with his heart.
Half-Indian tailor Ahmad Malik has always had a talent for making women beautiful, inching his way toward recognition by designing riding habits for Rotten Row’s infamous Pretty Horsebreakers—but no one compares to Evelyn. Her unbridled spirit enchants him, awakening a depth of feeling he never thought possible.
But pushing boundaries comes at a cost and not everyone is pleased to welcome Evelyn and Ahmad into fashionable society. With obstacles spanning between them, the indomitable pair must decide which hurdles they can jump and what matters most: making their mark or following their hearts?
The first novel of the year (for this reader) arrives via the vivid and fashionable new work by Mimi Matthews, The Siren of Sussex. Like her recent title John Eyre, (reviewed last summer) it is set in 19th century England, albeit somewhat later in 1862. The Victorian era is on full display throughout the story, with copious details which easily transport the audience to a different time full of pomp and luxury, but also rife with unforgiving societal pressures and bigoted beliefs. The titular Siren is Evelyn Maltravers, a determined young woman who aspires to not only marry well for the sake of her family, but also to retain her somewhat costly practice of horse riding, one of her greatest joys. She hires a talented man to outfit her for the season, and quickly finds that she and the tailor Ahmad Malik have a romantic attraction which complicates her plans.
The Siren of Sussex has a completely different feel than John Eyre. The latter was based on the classic Jane Eyre, and was very gothic in tone. Siren is its own original story, although many elements are based on historical fact. This becomes abundantly clear in Matthews’ writing. Her research into the time period was quite impressive, as details regarding horseback riding, the current fashion trends, societal issues and fads were copious without being exorbitant. The descriptions of the many dresses and gowns that the women donned were quite thorough; even without photographs I felt like I could see and feel them. As a horsewoman herself, the author is also well versed in details regarding equestrian matters, from minute animal behaviors to the way riders would maintain control of their powerful steeds.
The storytelling of Siren
|1998 Kate as "Evelyn"|
For my conservative readers, I can report that The Siren of Sussex would probably be appropriate for a slightly older audience (later teens and above), but in general the writing is fairly family-friendly. The colorful language is not prominent, and while the romantic elements are palpable, Matthews was quite restrained in several scenes. There is also an element of occultic spiritualism in one subplot, but it is presented as a matter of historical fact and doesn’t hold a tone of endorsement. Crystal ball-readers were quite common during that era, and including it in the narrative felt natural and wasn’t overly dark.
The Siren of Sussex was a great way to start off 2022. Captivating and romantic, Mimi Matthews’ latest work transports the reader to a different time, with a unique and compelling perspective that not only entertains, but informs. The narrative's pace was brisk without feeling rushed, and the conclusion was satisfying and realistic. The protagonists were appealing, and faced obstacles both in the form of human foes and cultural barriers. As a "word nerd" I also appreciated the author's proficiency with the vocabulary of the era. I found myself highlighting "new" words quite often. The Siren of Sussex was a delight to read, and I’m thrilled to know that this is not a standalone title, with more to come in a series, The Belles of London. The next volume, The Belle of Belgrave Square is slated to arrive this fall, and I hope that it will be on my nightstand for reading over the holiday season.
- Signed print copy of The Siren of Sussex
- Horse scarf
- Pewter sidesaddle brooch (made in Sussex, England!)
- The Siren of Sussex tote bag
- Three candles in scents: Fresh Hay, New Saddle, and Winter Ride
- Box of Ahmad Tea (60 count, assorted flavors)
- The Siren of Sussex bookmark⠀
|Photo Credit: Berkley Jove (TR)|
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.