Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Book Review & Launch Giveaway Package: The Siren of Sussex by Mimi Matthews

Victorian high society’s most daring equestrienne finds love and an unexpected ally in her fight for independence in the strong arms of London’s most sought after and devastatingly handsome half-Indian tailor.

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
1998 Kate as "Evelyn"
is quite captivating, a quick read without being flimsy. The attraction between Evelyn and Ahmad was quite palpable, sometimes bordering on becoming overly sentimental, but this reader chose to simply sit back and enjoy the colorful romance of it all. As I imagined a younger Kate Winslet in the “role” of Evelyn, this parallels my enjoyment of her part in the movie
Titanic, which is also seen as a sentimental (although tragic) film by many. Like Titanic, the lead romantic roles in The Siren of Sussex deal with an intense attraction across class lines. However, Siren also tackles the complex issues facing those of mixed Indian-English heritage at that point in history. Matthews’ personal connection to Indian culture was quite evident, and has most certainly educated her readers in matters we may have been ignorant of or had forgotten. Many of us romanticize England in the 19th century, but there is more to that era than fancy gowns, glittering dancing halls and “proper” etiquette. Siren shines a direct light upon difficulties that are often ignored in many works of romantic historical fiction.  While I was entertained by the novel, I also appreciated its perspective from an educational standpoint.

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.

Mimi is celebrating of the release of The Siren of Sussex with a curated giveaway that we hope you will love.⠀
With her hero and heroine in mind, Mimi selected items that reflected their love of fashion, horses, and tea!⠀
The Siren of Sussex Giveaway package includes:
  • 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⠀
The winner will be announced on Mimi's blog - mimimatthews.com – at 8:00 pm Pacific time on 2/8/22.

The giveaway is open from 12:01 am Pacific time 1/4/22 until 11:59pm Pacific time on 2/7/22. US Mailing addresses only. Enter via the Rafflecopter widget below, which is linked to Mimi's website.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

            Photo Credit: Berkley Jove (TR)
About the Author

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. 





  1. Lovely review, Laura. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am glad that you enjoyed it also. Mimi is a gifted writer. I appreciated the historical detail and the romance. As a previous horsewoman, I can attest that she got the equestrian bits right. I am looking forward to the next book this fall.

    1. Laurel Ann: I bet as an equestrian, those minute details were so exciting! There were moments when I was reading that I thought, "If I knew what that technical term really meant, I bet I'd be so excited to see that detail included here!" That said, as a (mostly) non-equestrian, I never felt alienated. It was all so lovely.

  2. Seems a delghtful book to read. Didn't grow up with any horse in our area - so I struggle when reading stories related to horses. But learning a lot when I do, so looking forward to reading this.

    1. I hope you do get a chance to read this one! My experience with horses is very limited (I am by no means an "equestrian"), but I really enjoyed all the detail regarding these beautiful animals. Matthews expends more effort describing the fashions though, in my opinion. All of it is delicious!



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