5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
While I don’t think that this book is for everyone (not even everyone who normally likes historical romances), it’s well-written, excellently executed, and sparkles with both wit and a certain melodramatic flair (costumes, scandals, and runaways — oh my!). Chase has given us a strong, thoroughly independent female who’s ambitious and driven… about dressmaking, as well as a boring (initially classified as just plain stupid) male lead whose main interests are usually his own. They get into a series of hijinks, none of which I would have believed could seem at all interesting: rescuing a young felon/pickpocket and a young innocent sister from a disastrous marriage, and of course, a dressmaking shop on the brink of financial ruin, but yet, all of which I found thoroughly entertaining (almost addictively so).
Some of my favorite works by Chase take a trope, and then turn it on its head.
Here, we have a manipulative, managing, single-mindedly ambitious… female protagonist. She has no interest in love affairs, and worries only about how everything in the world (including taking a lover) might affect her shop. Without the boobs and the dresses, Chase’s protagonists (the Noirot sisters at the heart of the Dressmakers series especially) could almost be the male lead from any other historical romance.
We also have a hero (Longmore) who’s more physical than intellectual, and who is driven to action more by instinct than thought. Though Sophy (our female lead) sometimes disparages him as a bit of a slow top (at least initially), he’s not. One of the characteristics that becomes startlingly clear about Longmore is that he can think, he just often chooses not to, because well, it’s too much trouble to think. Or have to deal with “feelings.” He’d much rather act, and react. He’s observant, and quite cunning when he feels the need to be, which is actually a refreshing change from the heroes who we’re told are intelligent but who then proceed to act like a lump or heroes who think they’re near-geniuses.
So… why did I enjoy this book and why don’t I think all fans of historical romance might like it??
1. You have the classically handsome hero and heroine, but a lot of the normal gender stereotypes are turned around (something Chase is fond of doing). (I think Sophy describes it best, at the very beginning when she observes, “All that manly beauty. If only he had a brain…No better not… brains in a man were inconvenient.”)
2. Their adventures and misadventures are, as Sophia would say, Dripping With Melodrama. They kind of careen from one unlikely scenario to another (spying on the competition, chasing after a young innocent, and so on). You kind of have to keep one eye closed during some of the setups that get them into conflicts and costumes… (which of course, are the heart of a story based upon, well, dressmakers…)
3. Again with the dresses. Yeah, I get that this is a series about dressmakers, and I was only meh about the first, Silk is for Seduction, in particular because I felt a little overwhelmed by the details about the corsets and the ribbons and the French… but yeah… there are a lot of details here. So if you don’t like reading about dressmaking and such, you’ll have quite a few sections to skim through.
Still, I thought it was great. It’s one of those books that gives you a certain set of expectations about its characters (the not-so-smart male lead, the overly dramatic female heroine) but then slowly works at those. You see how the gravitas of the male kind of perfectly compliments the flighty manipulations of our heroine. Some of the dialogue and setup is done just perfectly, and many of the transitions and emotions are actually done quite subtly, and we get some fairly nice resolution for even our side characters. It has the added strength that it gets stronger and more engaging as it goes.
Comparisons to Other Authors/Books:
Chase is good at carrying out tropes well, which makes sense since this was a RITA winner. She’s not afraid to get into the nitty-gritty of her character’s cause or passion, which is very Lisa Kleypas and Sherry Thomas-like (where the characters often have careers, purposes, things that are really driving their actions). Also, she’s a master at creating super strong female characters, who sometimes come from loving, supportive families (very Julia Quinn in terms of having that super-strong and supporting, will-always-be-there-for-you family), and often have friends and/or relatives who always, always remain loyal. I still think that Lord of the Scoundrels (definitely a five-star book) might be my favorite, followed by this and then Your Scandalous Ways.