However, Loretta continues to be awesome. For context on why I love this author, earlier review here.
Silk Is For Seduction
The heroine is Marcelline Noirot, one of the three daughters of a pair of aristocratic swindlers; if you've read the Carsington series of brothers wandering about and stumbling over fantastic wives, you'll recognize her mother's family, the Dreadful Deluceys from Lord Perfect and Last Night's Scandal. If you've read any of her books, ever, you are not surprised to find our heroine is nearer thirty than twenty, a widow who had a loving (if feckless) husband, and a dearly loved child. She also has a rising career as a modist who started her business with her sisters with money from gaming hells exercising her Delucey talent for manipulation and cheating at cards and playing roulette.
I admit I have weakness for women who are a.) really competent and b.) aren't at all even vaguely aware there should be shame attached to it. Like most of Loretta's heroines, she doesn't just have a career to survive; she has a career that's her natural avocation. And while it would be nice to be in the aristocratic circles of her birth, she also doesn't pine all that much, because she loves her job and that's way more important than rank. Or for that matter, a man.
(Again, I cannot emphasize enough my biggest kink for these books is how they handle the dual priorities of career and romance. And even more importantly, how Loretta handles her romantic heroes.)
The Duke of Clevedon is a little dissolute but mostly still trapped in living down his father's bad behavior. He finds tradesman objectionable; Marcelline's hotness is working in her favor. Being a man, he wants her; being around her means he hears more than he ever thought he'd want to know about a.) the disgraceful state of fashion, b.) colors, c.) self-promotion through scandal-sheet spin (handled by Marcelline's sister Sophie). Which is how while he's girding himself to propose to the woman he's pretty much destined to marry, he ends up reading fashion magazines and worriedly aware he now can identify bad design and terrible stitching on sight.
This is not her best book; it's a little too much a combination of Bathsheba's plot in Mr Perfect and not nearly as developed as her earlier ones in terms of backstory because the widow-with-child (without abusive dead spouse but a real honest to God happy marriage) thing is being used now as trope, which honestly, it should be, but it's not yet so the shortcut feels forced unless you've read some of her other books. It makes up for a lot of that in wonderfully well-done scenes of how Marcelline and her sisters run their business, manipulate the press, and especially Marcelline's approach to fashion and design as an artist who loves to create things that are beautiful.
Despite the theme of earlier books, I really wasn't sure how Marcelline's trade would be handled; Daphne's scholarship, Lydia's journalism (and later, literary work), Charlotte and Mirabel running an estate all, for the most part, are things that daring aristocratic women could conceivably pull off (running an estate, in fact, was pretty normal, all things considered).
(Exception: Lela Beaumont's work as a career artist was a series with an entirely different concept base that wasn't at the mercy of Regency trope, even though technically speaking, by time period it does fall into the Regency genre.)
Clevedon's appalled self-awareness that he enjoyed reading fashion magazines (and making notes), his interest in Marcelline shifting from finding her gorgeous to falling in love with her intelligence, her business sense, her drive, and her artistry, was comforting, however. And like every Chase hero, his approach to courtship isn't to save her from a life of trade; it's an offer to join her at it, enthusiastically, excitedly, because he loves what she does and hello, he has ideas, and polite society, whatever, he has fucking notes, okay? He has thoughts on this. He wants to be her partner, not her advisor or patron or supervisor; he wants her to show him how he can be part of her world, because her world is awesome.
I will pretty much state outright that the entire book is worth it just for Clavedon reading French fashion magazines, I'll be honest.
Of note: Lady Clara, who Clevedon desperately tries to make himself marry and says hell, no, when he refuses; I'd go more into her story, but I get the feeling--please God--she'll get a novel of her own soon. Her development from a shy mouse dominated by her mother and treated as a helpless child by her brother (and who is forced to wear ugly dresses) to finding her self-confidence and backbone is a little rushed, but a lot of fun to read. That she thought she had to marry Clevedon because she'd never known it was possible to do anything else transforming into a dawning realization she'd like to marry someone who, hey, is a.) in love with her and b.) that she's in love with as well is just lovely.
(Also, the fact she was wearing a dress made by Marcelline that Sophie later makes capital of in an article that was kind of the equivalent of an advertisement saying If You Buy Marcelline's Dresses, You, Too, Will Be Turning Down Dukes Left and Right was just beautiful to behold. I'd totally buy that dress.)
Again, not her strongest book by any means, but a fun, fast read.
Kindle sales on books by Loretta Chase:
Isabella - $2.99 - the prequel to the Carsington novels, this being the Earl of Harcourt himself and his courtship of Isabella, they who spawned several novels about their sons. This is one of her earliest books and it shows big time, but it's not terrible, one, and if you are a completionist and were curious about the entire backstory of the Carsington men, it's a good read. And it's stuffed with Surprise Revelations! a anti-hero (Loretta just loves to make sure her villains could be redeemable in a future sequel) and to be fair, it's not her weakest work.
The English Witch - $2.99 - this is her weakest work. See what I said above about the redeemable villain? Yeah, this is his story. It's weak, and it drags occasionally, but it also is, I think, her first attempt to play with imperfect, rather unethical heroes and heroines that aren't evil, just, you know, unethical and manipulative but still good people. But I do not deny that this one I got through only because of what she was trying to do here and nails in her later books and I was curious to find out where it started. It could be considered the genre spiritual predecessor to Silk Is For Seduction, Last Night's Scandal, Captives of the Night, and the rather inexplicable Your Scandalous Ways. (For the record, in Regency trope, Last Night's Scandal is the best of them; Captives of the Night is, again, not Regency at all; I'm honestly not sure what the hell it is, which is why I love it beyond reason.)
Lord of Scoundrels - $3.99 - this is an update that apparently was supposed to fix typos. I didn't notice typos before, but this update did not help, but if you can stand a few times early on that paragraphs repeat--and near the end, a page repeats--this is one of my favorite books. It's probably the closest Chase comes to a classic regency in so far as boy marries girl and lifts her into wealth and ease. How they go about it is about as non-classic as you can get, up to and including; pornographic watches, Russian icons, blackmail, extortion, ruining reputations, bloodsucking lawyers for Greater Justice, a shooting, a psychosomatic injury, and possibly the first time I've seen any novelist tackle, with sympathy, a parent's desertion (I would almost recommend it just for that bit; I've never seen any Regency romance both subtextually and textually address sympathetically the motivations that might surround a mother who leaves her child; hell, half the damn plotline is built on it).
Coming in June: Scandal Wear Satin which I am going to say is either going to be about Clara and her newly discovered fashion sense and backbone, or Marcelline's sister Sophie the scandal-rag spin artist. It's a toss-up.
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